Kaufmann’s wife takes a critical kicking

Kaufmann’s wife takes a critical kicking


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2019

UK critics have dumped heavily on Christiane Lutz’s production of Rigoletto for Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

Richard Morrison in the Times: …Confused? You will be. The last scene has more corpses than your local crematorium as assorted Charlie (Chaplin)s take revenge on each other. Symbolic? All in the mind? I haven’t the foggiest, and don’t think I was alone. This Chaplin-fixation isn’t even the biggest liberty taken by Lutz…

Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph: Lutz’s gloss doesn’t add anything authentic to the opera, and the execution requires more subtle acting and less extraneous detail. More attractive scenery and costumes would also help.

William Hartston in the Daily Express: The defect of the production can be summed up in one question: what do Rigoletto and Charlie Chaplin have in common? The answer, of course, is nothing at all, or at best, very little. Yet in her quest for modern relevance, Lutz sets the story in some sort of Hollywood film studio with the Duke of Mantua as some sort of Harvey Weinstein figure and Rigoletto making his entrance with a Charlie Chaplin impersonation.

David Mellor in the Mail on Sunday: Glyndebourne has never done Rigoletto before. It would have been better if it had stayed that way. The immature and inexperienced young German director Christiane Lutz – the new Mrs Jonas Kaufmann, by the way – makes a total hash of it… Hers is a truly crazy production. Rigoletto becomes Charlie Chaplin, with two other Chaplin doppelgängers hanging around, and a ridiculous old man who strips off (yuk!) during the overture. 


Christiane Lutz directing Vuvu Mpofu. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith


  • Bob Slinger says:

    One should take any review by Richard Morrison and Rupert Christiansen by a grain of salt. No two snobbish and self-entitled reviewers has ever walked the earth and their hidden agendas could fill a library the size of Alexandria itself.

    • Nik says:

      Who are you and what’s your agenda (hidden or otherwise)?
      I don’t always agree with what they write (just as they don’t always agree with each other), but I read both their reviews with interest and appreciate their insights and perspectives. In fact Christiansen is now the only reason why I continue to pay for a Telegraph online subscription, given the sorry state of the rest of that paper.

  • Jane says:

    Reviews which smack of typical ‘reviewer’ narrowmindedness. Evidently, no-one could be bothered to make the necessary step to engage with the new ideas presented in this production. Mr Mellor’s is frankly a poor and lazy piece of writing. They make me all the more curious to see it; bravi tutti!

    • Eric says:

      Rigoletto hardly qualifies as subtle theatre which benefits from overintellectualized regie theatre interpretations. What most operagoers want to engage with is great singing, sadly mostly absent these days.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Perhaps they’re just wasn’t enough rigour-letto.

      • Mik Schachter says:

        Is there anything that benefits from regie theatre interpretation?

      • Amber says:

        Opera directors should write their own works insted of spoiling what others have written.We want operas as they were conceived by the creators, not a mixture of symbols, interpretations, metaphors etc etc which are only in the directors minds. If they want to be original, let them write something of their own.

    • pageturner says:

      It’s not the worst review I have read from Herr Mellor, even though I loathe that overly puffed up lump of opinionated lard. Having spent many an evening sat between him and Huffy Puffy Canning (another bete noire) at the Garden and elsewhere, he’s generally not someone whose opinion I would trust.

      • Mike Schachter says:

        Perhaps if you were there yourself you formed your own opinion?

      • Nik says:

        Ah yes, Canning is someone I can’t see the point of. From a reader’s perspective the distinction between the Times and the Sunday Times is entirely spurious. I find Richard Morrison’s reviews thoughtful, well-informed and engaging (though clearly not everyone here agrees!) whereas Canning seems to go through the motions without adding anything of interest, just so the ST can say it has its own opera critic.

  • Rob says:

    It says she’s married to Jonas Kauffmann

    • sycorax says:

      Well, she is and she’s got a baby last year (or so).
      I’m now wondering what her marriage to Kaufmann says about her qualification as a director …

    • Waltraud says:

      She was a successful director even before she met Kaufmann ……

      • sycorax says:

        One could argue about “successful”, but in one point we agree: I just wanted to say that her work as a director isn’t connected to being the “wife of …”

        • Saxon Broken says:

          “Successful” in the sense that she gets hired regularly. I don’t think that can be contested, even if it doesn’t succeed as theatre.

  • H Rosen says:

    Thank goodness Sébastien Schwarz left, or else Eurotrash would litter the Sussex countryside at every moment. Both Glyndebourne and Covent Garden have learnt, too late maybe, that Regie Theater does not work for British audiences/critics

    • The View from America says:

      It works for practically no audiences/critics.

    • sycorax says:

      It doesn’t work for the German audiences either. In former times my family had around 12 subscriptions to the opera house in Stuttgart. Nowadays none of us goes there anymore. We all feel bored to tears by their idiotic regie theatre productions.

    • Waltraud says:

      Could be UK is not a coutry for intellectual regie theatre, but Germany, Austria and France are interested and able to understand. Perhaps this is the reason why Brits get out of EU?

  • Lulu says:

    So, that Rigoletto “therapy “didn t work. Well, expectedly so.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    Oh dear.

    Ever since Scottish Opera, in 1984, staged Turandot as an episode in the life of Puccini (even changing the ending so that the Calaf-figure [Puccini] rejected the melted ice-princess and took up the servant-girl’s corpse) I have been wary of attending the first performances of new productions. If they’re any good they’ll be revived.

  • Mike Schachtee says:

    Some may recall from the ENO’s cavalcade of disasters a production of Rigoletto set in a Victorian gentlemen’s club. Presumably it was meant to depict the subjugation of women, though I thought Verdi had done that. But this sounds like utter drivel.

  • Orech says:

    Saw the production yesterday. The set and costumes look good, the singing was of a high calibre, bearing in mind this is a Tour and not a Festival production, but oh dear! How right were the reviews!
    Liberties were taken with the plot, extra characters were introduced (usually, a warning sign), it was muddled and confusing. I am all for different takes on old-warhorses but the concept and execution was so confusing, that had I not read the reviews in advance, I would not have worked out what was going on.
    It is worth a visit to a Tour venue for the plus points but I am amazed that the powers-that-be at Glyndebourne didn’t step it to demand changes.
    What will be interesting is whether it migrates to the Festival, in a year or so. Rigoletto would normally sell out, on musical content alone.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Sounds very like the ENO debacle. If you were not already familiar with the opera you would not have a clue what was happening.

    • M McAlpine says:

      Directors should know that they are the servant of the composer and are there to breath new life into old favourites. They are not there to peddle their own ideas to the detriment of what was written by a theatrical genius. I am all for a fresh approach but some of this stuff bears no resemblance to what is heard in the music or libretto.

      • Robin Worth says:

        Its not just the composer.

        Victor Hugo was a significant novelist, a great dramatist and one of the greatest French poets. Maybe he is largely unknown to an anglophone (or German) public today, but that does not diminish his quality. Surely his work deserves to be treated with some respect? To be sure, the recent Herheim ROH Queen of Spades trashed Pushkin, but does Lutz have to do the same to VH? Reinterpret/change the setting (as Jonathan Miller did) but keep yourself out of it.

    • valerie eckstein says:

      I saw this production at the Empire in Liverpool last Sat, 23 Nov.
      The worst production of Rigoletto I have ever seen.
      I agree with everything I have read in the various reviews.

  • George says:

    What about the audience’s reaction? Or was the piece performed for four critics?

  • Bloom says:

    Inventing döppelgangers for operatic characters in order to “deconstruct” them and their story is rather Claus Guth s thing. Mrs.Lutz was Mr.Guth s assistant director , so she probably learned from him to use this technique. They make use of it in the Salzburg Fidelio from 2015. With relative success. Probably in Glyndebourne , döppelgangers have really freaked everyone out.

  • Tom Hase says:

    Has any production by a German director in any of the many different styles of German opera directing of the last 30 year, which for some reason are somehow still all subsumed as “Regietheater” in the UK, not been attacked by British critics? None of these reviews than forgets to mention that these productions kill the audience interest in opera – yet there are far more than 500 such productions each year in Germany, whereas the British opera scene is as dead as Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. It seems unlikely to me that this fight against windmills will change the course of opera direction outside this increasingly irrelevant island.

    • George Collingwood says:

      The two worst productions I have ever seen were both by a Brit (well I think he’s British): the previous ROH Ring and Glyndebourne’s Der Rosenkavalier. Apart from all the other benefits of Brexit, perhaps a diminishing continental influence on stage productions in all genres will result. Tootle, pip, George Collingwood

    • Robin Worth says:

      Yes, and Glyndebourne has previous form : who remembers the Ariadne a few years ago? So the Christies’ house was turned into a hospital in WW2 – this inspired the Director and the result was more than somewhat incomprehensible.

      • sycorax says:

        And what a funny hospital it was! We should believe it was in the English country side, but everyone around spoke German!
        And I wondered all the time why the poor composer wandered through the hospital without having one little line to sing!

  • Steve says:

    Germany’s impressionistic “Eurotrash” of the 1920’s and 1930’s unfortunately is still alive and well. Damn shame.