German music director: We’re screwed

German music director: We’re screwed


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2020

Cornelius Meister, music director of Stuttgart State Opera, opens the company’s November magazine with the words: Wir haben es verbockt.

In polite English: we’re screwed. Or: We screwed up.

He continues: ‘As a society, we haven’t managed to act in a way that prevents the virus from spreading. But we also failed in another aspect: We did not succeed in giving responsible political bodies the confidence that they could make a differentiating decision that we as a society would understand and accept…

‘Thanks to constantly refined hygiene concepts and the common sense of all those involved, operas, theaters and concert halls have not yet developed into sources of the disease. To cut corona infections, there is no point in closing these cultural sites. Where zero people previously infected each other, no less than zero infections will be possible in the next few weeks.’

Read on here.

He has a point.


  • Akutagawa says:

    Being screwed is something that is done to you (if you ask nicely). Wir haben es verbockt is more active than that. It’s more like we f*cked up, or we’ve blown it (in a non-sexual sense).

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I was also inclined to ‘we’re f*cked’ but thought that might be too strong for the reasonable language he later uses.

      • Brettermeier says:

        “I was also inclined to ‘we’re f*cked’ but thought that might be too strong for the reasonable language he later uses.”

        Would’ve been wrong. “etw. verbocken” is not what you may call “foul” language. It’s just an antiquated (or at least rarely used) colloquial term.

    • Gustavo says:

      How about “We’ve messed up.”

    • sam says:

      wir haben es versaut, is we’ve f*ed up, which is not what he said

  • Joseph Olefirowicz says:

    It is actually “we have screwed it up”

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Wise words said by one of the worst conductors I’ve ever had to suffer.

    • Pedro says:

      I may disagree. He conducted Parsifal superbly in Antwerp two seasons ago.

    • Heifetz63 says:

      What a nonsense. His predecessor Cambreling was a real looser. Meister is a marvellous musican.

      • jaypee says:

        I’m sure Cambreling knows how to spell “loser” though…

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        With Cambreling I have done mostly contemporary music. He was clear, musical and professional; he is not the kind of conductor who gives a great show for the audience (like Meister likes to do), but from the orchestra side I don’t have many complaints about Cambreling.

    • Maighréad McCrann says:

      Cowardly words hiding behind anonymity, FrauGeigerin!

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        If I write using my name I cannot comment freely without jeopardising my job. Same thing 90% of the people commenting here do. Get a life.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    If you really set store on polite English, “we’ve failed” should be perfectly fine (it might not attract quite so many clicks, though).
    That said, Meister’s text is much too sensible to find an echo with the powers-that-be.

  • Mossy Flood says:

    Here’s a poem from county Cavan to cheer yis all up.

    The Beardy Buck in the Long White Gown
    By Seamus O’Rourke

    I fell over me bar stool and I banged me head
    But I held onto me pint until I was dead
    And then this fella came over as quiet as a lamb
    And he says how are you doing I’m Abraham.

    Well I opened me eyes I was in a maze
    Sure I thought I was lying there for days
    And this beardy Buck in a long white gown
    Made the sign of the Cross and he says your sound.

    And he lifted me up and he shook me hand
    And he says your very welcome to the promised Land.
    Well we went outside and the town was full,
    He said its not a big town, but it’s never dull,
    Ah the place was hoppin, with music and song
    Says I to meself now there’s something wrong.

    And pints were a Euro and crisps were free,
    And every pub in the town had neither lock nor key.
    And he says there’s a match in the park every couple of hours
    With refreshments serves little baby Powers.

    And we win the Championship nearly every year
    And the rest of the time we spend drinking beer
    Ah says I to him it’s Cavan town with the Gaels a winnin
    And the music around.

    Ah that Beardy Buck got into a rage,
    it’s not them hures they haven’t won in an age
    I said the Fleadh only lasted a three year stint
    I know that Martin Donohoe thinks he’s the President.
    There’s more places in heaven than Cavan town,
    said the man with the beard and the long white gown.

    Grab a hold of me coat says he to me
    and I’ll bring you off on a little spree.
    Ah grab your coat yourself says I to him,
    Do you think I’m an ejit, do you think I’m dim
    If I grab a coat it’ll be me own,
    you can go where you like, I’m going home.

    Oh he changed his tune, he says you don’t understand,
    you’re standing in the middle of the promised land
    Well I don’t give a shite where I am now says I to him
    expecting a row I says I’m going home to Killashandra town

    You auld beardy hure in your long white gown.
    Well he took out a whistle and he gave it a blow
    And he says only for me you’d be down there below
    And he grabbed me by the neck and he pinned me up agin the wall

    He says I was there when you had you had your father mind your business
    And I’ll mind mine and then he looked up at this great sign
    And I looked at him in his long white gown
    and I looked at the sign Killashandra town

    Well he let go of me neck and he says you’re free
    You can go where you want or you can come with me
    Ah says I where are you going I’d like to know
    And we were joined by a fella with a fiddle and bow
    He says I’m going up the town to a nice wee spot
    You can come if you like, it won’t cost a lot.

    And we walked with Abraham in his long white gown
    We walked the street of Killashandra town
    And the fiddler stopped and so did Abraham
    And he took out his whistle and shook me hand
    He says you have your fall, your race was run
    But you’re alright now, so come in for one.

    And I followed him in a little confused
    Forgetting that I was already boozed
    And I sat up at the counter and I had a wee sup
    And the next thing I knew, sure me arse it was up
    Ah I don’t mind falling or even banging me head
    Sure it’s better than being at home lying in bed
    But if you ever go drinkin to Killashandra town,
    Look out for the Buck in the long white gown.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    He’s right, and that in a country where the arts are considered education and not just entertainment. If there’s anywhere in Europe his ideas might have had some traction, it’s Germany. When that government puts their cultural scene on a level with any other fun night out it doesn’t bode well for the rest.

    • Bob the Builder says:

      Germany does not have a monopoly on culture, they have no Shakespeare, no Tallis, no Byrd, no Purcell, singing in German does not appeal to me and many other folk, Wagner is way overrated and boring.

      Once you start turning entertainment into “Culture” you have lost the plot. Remember tastes in music are personal not everyone likes the same music.

  • Mossy Flood says:

    Well it cannot be as bad as being lockdown here in county Leitrim.

  • Mario says:

    The Teatro alla Scala in Milan has decreed ten days of quarantine for their stable bodies, after tests carried out on its staff have detected an outbreak of coronavirus that has already registered 27 infected musicians: eighteen singers from the choir and nine instrumentalists, measurements were confirmed to be sufficient for the corps de ballet where there were no positive results, but not for the choir and orchestra Mario

  • John Borstlap says:

    He obviously has not understood the airborn transmission of the virus. Only in corona proof halls with masked audience, concerts would be possible.

  • Papageno says:

    They should do a mime parody of that famous war room scene from movie “Downfall” with Bruno Ganz playing Hitler.

  • Nick says:

    We ARE screwed because we elect wrong people as leaders!!

  • Sharon says:

    I do not read German but if the rest of the article was along the line of what was translated it makes no sense. As far as the theory that there is 0 transmission because people without Covid are not admitted to concert halls is concerned –It takes at least a couple of days (and I have read that some scientists believe it could be almost two weeks) after a person contract the Corona virus before symptoms show up, if they show up. Furthermore, not everyone who has Covid symptoms always has a fever, and these contactless thermometers are not always so accurate either. It may even be a couple of days after contracting the Corona virus before it shows up on a Corona virus test, and I understand that there can be a lot of false negatives even then.

    Although we know that people are contagious for at least the first week after they show symptoms they may be contagious if they do not show symptoms and may even be contagious if they have tested negative on a coronavirus test, whether it be because they contracted the coronavirus too recently for it to show up on a test or there is a false negative.

  • Sharon says:


    Therefore, to say that concert auditoriums are safe is just downright wrong.

    Masking and social distancing will help a lot of course but under most circumstances singers and orchestra cannot social distance and with the possible exception of the strings and piano certainly cannot mask. It is the projection of breath that helps spread the virus, as we know by the spread of the virus in choirs and in places where people speak unmasked, like for the recent swearing in of Barrett, the US Supreme Court justice, and of course, from the large list of muscians and singers who have succumbed to Covid that have been discussed on this blog.

    This arts lockdown has been a financial and emotional disaster for tens if not hundreds of thousands, I know, but we have no choice but to stay the course.

    We need to keep telling ourselves although it may take a lot of time THIS WILL PASS.

  • Joseph says:

    maybe there is a silver lining to the corona in that it will put an end to the persistent coughing of the otherwise sanitised experience of listening to classical music.