Salzburg director: ‘The worst public in the opera are these obsessed gays’

Salzburg director: ‘The worst public in the opera are these obsessed gays’


norman lebrecht

July 22, 2020

The Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski who is staging Elektra at the Salzburg Festival has shot his mouth off with an anti-gay rant in the desperately tweet-seeking New York Times.

What he reportedly said was: ‘ The worst public in the opera are these obsessed gays. All these rich guys with nothing to do in their life, just following Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann on all continents. This is not a real audience for me.’

So what is he doing at the Salzburg Festival?

According to his wiki entry: Warlikowski is gay and was in a long relationship with actor Jacek Poniedziałek but he is currently married to Polish set designer Małgorzata Szczęśniak who is his life partner.

Go figure.



  • Nik says:

    Let’s all read the complete sentence.
    “The worst public in the opera are these obsessed gays,” he said. “All these rich guys with nothing to do in their life, just following Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann on all continents. This is not a real audience for me.”
    I understand the point he is making. Whether it’s fair or politically correct is another question.
    I thought it was a good article by the way, and it contains plenty of information about Mr Warlikowski’s own lifestyle. No need to look at any wiki entries.

  • BP says:

    The subversive director who only works on the world’s most prestigious stages with their bourgeois audiences. (OK that quote is pretty funny though.)

  • Bloom says:

    Many of the Warlikowski fans are also very cool, cultured, slightly snobbish gays who protect him from the attacks of Kaufmann’s groupies ( mainly bovaric housewives.) They won t do it anymore from now on.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    It’s not quite an anti-gay rant. I think it’s more to do with the ‘obsessives’ and opera audiences are full of those wannabes: people who are old enough to know better queuing up for autographs and following stars round the world.

    That’s a fair point and he spoiled the message by making it a gay thing

    • Nik says:

      I think his point is also about the way that superstar names are the be-all-and-end-all to a certain section of the audience, and they won’t engage with opera any deeper than chasing the same famous singers in the same old blockbuster roles all over the world.
      They exist, of course they do. And what’s wrong with that? It brings joy to their lives, and their spending power is vital in keeping the whole industry afloat.
      Warlikowski and his ilk would probably prefer it if opera was 100% publicly funded and exclusively reserved for sparse audiences of philosophy students with black scarves and furrowed brows who wallow in the works of obscure Siberian peasant composers.
      The reality of the business is that the latter can exist because of the former, and a lot of us who like opera enjoy dipping our toes into a bit of both.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Only Mr. Warlikowski can interpret his words.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Perhaps he thinks he is ingratiating himself to Andrzej Duda.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    Comes over as a translation error.

  • Gustavo says:

    Perhaps just a typo?


  • mary says:

    Obsessed fans that travel the world following one artist is kinda creepy though.

    Especially if you’re a guy and they’re older, rich enough to follow you, but not rich enough to be your sugar daddy.

    Alas, not everyone can be a Farinelli with patrons like the wealthy Neapolitan Farina brothers.

  • The real value of the article for me is the sense it gives about the opera world itself, and its attempts to revive a largely dead art form with extravagant camp.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      And when exactly was opera not about extravagant camp?

      • Good point. Within a century after the Florentine Camerata, opera staging had already become so excessive its value became its bad taste and irony. The future of classical music theater lies in turning away from that.

      • Yup, there’s a future in opera staged by John Waters, Dame Edna Everage, Divine, and Liberace. Or can we maybe create something new, smaller, something with a genuine integration of music, text, and theater, something that better speaks to modern sensibilities? Sadly, not likely given our hide bound opera community.

        • Bruce says:

          I don’t know if there’s a “future” in operas directed by people who are dead (or, in Dame Edna’s case, old and retired).

          And who needs them anyway, when the opera world already has this guy and Calixto Bieito?

    • Penny says:

      “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” not a great success then?

  • sam says:

    Oh he’s just being his usual provocateur self.

    He knows that neither his gayness nor his gay stagings would be accepted in his native Poland.

    His livelihood and his lifestyle depend on the open acceptance of Western Europe. And Salzburg and its in-crowd, gays and Nazis and all.

  • Doug says:

    This sounds like the majority of the audience in the UK which I found utterly revolting. Star worshiping sheep that cannot even coherently express the value of classical music.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “According to his wiki entry: Warlikowski is gay and was in a long relationship with actor Jacek Poniedziałek but he is currently married to Polish set designer Malgorzata Szczesniak who is his life partner.”

    A conversion into the other direction is rarely reported, although it often happens in adolescence.

    Mrs Szczęśniak doesn’t like ‘the past’ and wants it replaced by transparency:

    It all looks like a conventional postwar obsession.

  • AB says:

    The point of Warlikowski is not anty-gay at all. He is openly gay himself.
    Being married with his set and costume designer, Mrs. Szczesniak since early 80s, he is openly gay and doesn’t hide it. And his current partner has been with him for over 10 years already.
    So, one should just read carefully what he says in the full sentense and not react like an unicellular amoeba on the combination “worst” and “gay” in one phrase.

  • The View from America says:

    Takes one to know one?

  • R. Brite says:

    I don’t give a euphemistic fig about his orientation or anyone else’s. But I will say I run screaming from any production with his name on it. He’s like the platonic ideal of pretentiousness.

  • Frank says:

    What I find more intriguing than the comment that looks like gay bashing but isn’t, is the way Warlikowski seems to find it perfectly normal that whenever he has a lover, this lover gets a highly coveted job at whatever place Warlikowski is working. This happens in a lot of opera houses, W. is not the only one, and it would not fly at any other field of endeavor.

    • V. Lind says:

      I suspect it happens in big business all the time.

    • Sharon says:

      Didn’t fly in a lot of opera houses either. The reason for Levine’s downfall at the Met was not that he had sex with minors; there was no serious proof of that; but that he favored, or tried to favor, or made promises to favor, his young lovers in hiring and other professional benefits, and then could not or did not follow through, or follow through sufficiently to grant these young men the professional or financial security that they expected to get out of the relationship.

      His lovers (or sex partners depending on one’s point of view) who were depending completely on Levine’s patronage, felt betrayed and when the opportunity arose took revenge by spilling the beans.

      As far as gays following certain opera stars as opposed to being serious opera devotees–let’s face it, for most people classical music in any form is a form of entertainment and it cannot be expected that most fans have an academic level knowledge or academic aesthetic appreciation of it. It is the star following aesthetically unsophisticated who support opera. Nik hit the nail on the head.

      At the risk of stereotyping isn’t star following, whether it be Madonna, Judy Garland, or Jonas Kaufman, part of gay culture (for at least some gays)?

      I go to a lot of theater and what you see at the audience at all levels, from the most serious indie theater to light Broadway musicals, is mainly women who drag their husbands or boyfriends or gay men.

      I suppose it is natural, that all serious artists prefer performing for the knowledgable fan who can truly appreciate the work that went into creating the art.
      Nevertheless,Warlikowski should not bite the hand that feeds him

  • fred says:

    Poor David Tucker had to go because he used the word ‘thug’, and this guy can still go on? Where’s the inquisition now? Oh yeah it’s all about art right? Yeah right…I’m not gay but if i were i would not be happy

  • Chauchat says:

    But isn’t one of his future projects the BSO’s Tristan und Isolde with Mr. Kaufmann? He will have a hard time avoiding these super-fans.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Chauchat, Your prenom and Tristan alluaion encourage a dangerous presumption of Hot Cat connected to Mme. Chaauhat in Thomas Mann’s great novel “Magic Mountain”.

      If so,– and I hope you are,– I sign myself your respectful admirer, with Mynheer Peeperkorn and that innocent child of life Hans Castorp. I wish only that I coould write in French like its author, and its English translator from the German, Helen Lowe-Porter, who left one crucial chapter largely in that tongue of corporeal love.

      A great lpleasure, madame, to find you here, but, absolutely, why, some of my best friends … but no more, agree, we understand each another, and PieterPeeperkorn will now take unto himself a dram of good Hollands gin, and discreetly discuss you with his smitten, respectful young friend and successor Castorp. leaving you to your sly sidelong Slavic eye-glances, Pribislov Hippe’s borrowed mechanical pencil, annoyingly bad mannered to let slam the door behind you and touch with your school-girl bitten finger-nails the bunr at the nape of your neck, and all the loose, louche strands thereof, before resuming your travels from the International Sanitarium Berghof in Davos to move again among the Tatar exotics of eaastern Europe, leaving your high Slavic cheek-bones ablazze with memory of your perpetually absent husband, leaving you to the incoherent but benevolent guardianship of Mynheer Peeperkorn and his memories of Java plantations Then its off to the waterfall and a mesmeric oration of which not one word will be heard..

  • Peter says:

    An aging raging queen

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    This same problem has been around forever, whether it involved gay men or not. Given that our political world is full of sycophantic types, it’s hardly surprising the arts world would be.

  • Edgar says:

    Stuff for an nice opera buffa. Maybe Amistead Maupin could be persuaded to write the libretto? Just wondering whether there is a gayly forward looking composer to set it to gorgeous music. That would be wicked fun!

    • Edgar Self says:

      Alter ego and mein bessere ich, Edgar. Your notion of an Amistead Maupin opera buffa is inspired. It goes straight into Ethan Morden’s “The Queen’s Throat”and real Diva Politik.

      If only Albert Inaurato were still of this world 0f sacred monsters to review it for OPERA BEWS. One day we should compare notes on coping with our joint misfortune. Edgar was a ninth-century king of England, a saint even, though an historiansaid “an unlikely candidate for canonisation latter days.” Two are still better than one.

  • Papageno says:

    This is decades-old common knowledge, nothing new (anyone read Ethan Mordden’s book “Demented”?)
    Only thing new is daring to speak his mind in this day and age.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Oaoagenom I had just written Ethan Morddn’s name in connexion with “trhe Queen’s Throat” and was, er, groping for “Demented” before finding epiphany in your eclaircisement, if that’s what I mean to say. Merci. I’ve rad them both and am still howling. But Albert Inaurato’s bi-partite report “La Scala, or the Temple of Doom” in OPERA NEWS some 15 years ago is just as brilliant. I was very sad to read of his death, found after some days in his solitary flat in New York.

      Inaurato worked in everything … Muti, Lyla Gencer, Renata ETebali, the curse of “La Forza del Destino”, what else, and La Scala history of booing back to Arturo Toscanini. It is a brilliant piece worthy of perpetuation and hugging to the operatic voce del petto of every melomane. Stfan Wolf (sp”) is another such incredible leprechaun.

  • IP says:

    Don’t know about gay and straight, but there was Wanda who famously said that the Rachmaninov 3 would sound better without a couple of cellists than without Horowitz. Same thing about opera, directors, and audiences.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Don’t knock your audiences, whoever they are, is what I’d say. If it’s not obsessed gays it’s Viennese matrons. He he pays the piper calls the tune.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Sue Sonata-Allegro — I’ve nervously wondered about the JJapanese influence on Vienna Opera since the confounding appointment of SSeije Ozawa,– OZAWA!– as Director!!! and the profusion of Asian faces in boxes there. Is there really still that much Japanese yen in Vienna? Noh drama in three-quarter time?

      I’ve sung, rehearsed, and performed with Ozawa as a founding member of San Francisco Symphony Chorus without detecting one operatic iota about him apart from turtle-necks, Nehru jackets, witch-heads, and fright-wigs.

      I’ve wanted to ask, are you aware that that Thomas Mann consciously and deliberately wrote his haunting semi-autobiographical novella “Tonio Kroeger” in sonata-allegro form, clearly traceable in its story once you’re in on the secret. Somehow his name intrudes everywhere, permeating all. I must take thought. It’s a well-fingered part of the Zauberer Complex, and I’ve got it bad until I find enough others to share the burden. Ve glad your neurotic, and let your mind alone are my nottoes.

  • fflambeau says:

    Maybe the worst public in the operas are Polish directors.

    This comes as no surprise. Poland was one of the most hostile countries to Jews during WWII. It is full of racists.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Flambeaux — Poland is also about 99% Roman Catholic, but that is only coincidence. It’s national opera is Maniuszko’s “The Haunted Manor”… go, as they say, figger. Al otra mano, the Polish pope was a Tatra mountainerr and folk-singer in youth, and then there’s Chopin, who left at 20 and adored Bellini and invented the bel canto piano.

  • fflambeau says:

    “Warlikowski is a star himself….” Really? Never heard of him before this.

  • O just give me more of that old time schlock value opera productions

    • Edgar Self says:

      Yen points, Helene Kamioner. Amen, and Me Too, operatically speaking. What’s good enough for Gluck, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Cilea, Refice, Ildebrando Pizzetti, is good enough for me.

      • ES, I’d like to understand what you mean, if you don’t mind explaining please.

        • dgar Self says:

          Cher Mme Kaminer, that makes two of us, as I’d often like to know what I mean also, and post here to find out from clearer heads. I had thought to support what I took as your view to “give me that old-time schlock” or traditional operating productions, hence the award of ten points. But perhaps all this is a mutual misunderstanding. No matter.

          The alt-Gospel hymn “Give me that old-time religion, / It’s good enough for me” was the remembered echo, continuing “It was good enough for the prophet Daniel” or some such fond old memoory that amused me to apply to the modern world of often perverse staging, no? But whatever I may have meant, and what ever your iew, I am glad to support it.

          Did I give you too much credit? No, I think not. We take drubbings here, and a little support is sometimes reassuring, even if misguided or as mis-directed as an opera prodution! Servus and soludos.

  • Myrtar says:

    ” Warlikowski is gay and was in a long relationship with actor Jacek Poniedziałek but he is currently married to Polish set designer Małgorzata Szczęśniak who is his life partner.” , let’s all take advice from this guy.

  • Sean says:

    Always a shame when someone’s inane soundbite gets too much (or any) attention. I can tell you that his production of Iphighenie en Tauride at the Paris Opera a number of years back was one of the most embarrassing and inept things I have seen in over 50 years of opera going. Thank goodness Minkowski and his band were in the pit, and some pretty fine singing onstage as well.

  • Joe from Manchester says:

    Seems like a case of internalised homophobia to me.

  • Ken says:

    Maybe he just wanted us obsessives to talk about him? Or more likely Parterre…

  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    ‘Divini dell’opera’ have been around since Monteverdi.
    Who can forget Zinka Milanov’s mincing minions?
    Even La Divina’s admirers were usually closer to Querelle than Casanova.
    The irony of Warlikowski’s rather ungrateful if not hypocritical comment is the suggestion that the sexual preferences of the audience somehow equate to mindless celebrity singer idolatry or arch artistic conservativism.
    In bemoaning expectations that ‘there will be pyramids in Aida’ is surely not an anticipation limited to Luddite opera lovers who happen to be homosexual. Needless to say, the libretto also makes such an expectation perfectly reasonable.
    The illogicality of the syllogism is as absurd as say, interpreting Yevgeny Onegin as a retro-Tchaikovsky take on ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (viz Warlikowski’s scandal-ridden production for the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2007).
    Perhaps a more valid point that Warlikowski makes (without the patently offensive gay subtext) is the problem of many ubiquitous and affluent opera aficionados who are happy to pay the hefty ticket prices of Salzburg, Bayreuth or the season opening of La Scala but treat the art form as little more than a social divertissement offering the opportunity to see and be seen. For such prepossessed parvenus and high art poseurs, pretty stage pictures and over-paid celebrity singers are much easier to appreciate than intellectually challenging productions or post-Visconti directional innovation.
    However without such generous sponsors, who is going to pay for the ageing Polish enfant terrible’s increasingly costly whims and scandal-seeking iconoclasms?
    Certainly not the Nowy Teatr in Warszawa.

    • Bruce says:

      I’m reminded of an obsessed queen who was a member of an online opera fanatics’ group I used to belong to. This was online in the early 2000s. He would go on and on about how there had been nobody good since Callas/ Milanov/ Gigli, etc. (He grudgingly admitted that Price and Caballé were decent.)

      OK, fine, whatever. But one time he posted that he had heard a blind recording of Andrea Bocelli (pardon the pun) and guessed it was Pavarotti! Tells you what kind of ears he had, after all that posturing.

  • Bruce says:

    Comes across like a total poser. Or “provocateur,” if you want to use a fancy word for it.

  • BrianB says:

    Far worse for opera are self-obsessed directors who reshape and distort works to fit their own agendas completely foreign to the works themselves but are too impotent and sterile to create viable works of their own.

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    Och, och, jaka osoba może być zazdrosna. W każdym razie stworzył teraz całą sztukę wokół projektu operowego. Co jest również przydatne w jego osobistym marketingu jako reżysera. Ha ha!

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    Good grief, lockdown is having some weird effects. Rich people, whether gay or not, often follow certain opera singers because they can afford to hear the best and most glamorous in top opera houses.

    Reality check anyone?