In defence of Barrie Kosky

In defence of Barrie Kosky

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

February 03, 2022

The transfer of the Australian director’s Fiddler on the Roof production to Chicago next season has provoked some contrasting views on this site. Here’s a defence by a Berlin fan:

In Berlin we are extremely lucky to have Barrie Kosky for 10 years as Artistic Director of the Komische Oper (KOB), ending at the end of this season. We could see at least half a dozen of his productions every season. Some are Premieres and other are in the repertory. A Fiddler of the Roof is in the repertory. Some Premieres are co-productions from the word go, e.g., Eugen Onegin, a coproduction with Zuerich. A Fiddler is not a co-production. Travelling to another opera house presumably means the management in the second house thinks it is worthwhile to show it. It is cheaper, of course, and there is no guarantee that another Fiddler made from scratch would be a success at all.

Kosky is very consistent in putting on interesting productions during his entire tenure as Artistic Director in KOB. In baseball term he has a batting average of 0.7-0.8. Another in-house Artistic Director, in contrast to the free lancers that are helicoptered in for single productions, had perhaps an even more impressive record, was Walter Felsenstein in his time also in KOB. Not everyone of their corn pops, but their less successful works couldn’t get over the high bar set by their own previous successes.

Three recent KOB productions that have or will travel are Eugene Onegin, The Magic Flute and now Fiddler. I have seen all of them, and more than once. Lucky me because I live just down the road from KOB. Onegin had 5-stars reviews from local and international critics. The Magic Flute is an absolutely unique piece of theatre- an animation assisted Magic Flute. When I saw it, Alan Clayton was the fresh voice Tamino. This Magic Flute has been done in 7 US cities, 30 cities all over the world, has been seen by 700,000 people- statistics according to Kosky. Now Chicago is going to see Fiddler. Lucky Chicago because they have Kosky productions in successive season- this season Magic Flute, next season Fiddler.

I have seen Felsenstein’s Fiddler decades ago. The image from it that has remained undimmed, just before the final curtain when the stage was abandoned because every character was forced to abandon the shtetl, was an origami dove hung from the stage rafter. Kosky’s Fiddler couldn’t bring out that kind of melancholy as a final punch, but it has other well thought out coup de theatre. Since his grandparents came from a shtetl in Belarus, Kosky has the credential for Fiddler.

But … for me the one Fiddler that stood out, above Felsenstein’s and Kosky’s, was the off-Broadway production in Yiddish that I saw in 2019. Now that one ought to travel!


  • Martin says:

    That reads like a letter from the PR office of the Komische Oper. The truth is that Kosky is successful with most of his productions. But after 10 years of Kosky, his productions are very similar. It’s always the same ideas that he uses. There are also many who no longer want to see the same gags, the same gender bending statements, the same glitter and over-the-top stage actions. And at some point of the evening someone will be naked. That’s a sure bet.
    Many productions, like the Filddler, live from local singer actors, the musical quality is often second-rate.

  • I also saw the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene Yiddish Fiddler production and really preferred their production of Die Goldene Kale by Rumshinsky so much more. Both were done in the NYTF resident home in the splendid Museum of Jewish History/Holocaust Museum, near the world trade center, which is now running a well intentioned new production of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Garden of the Finzi-Contini. Huge audiences also attended the off Broadway production of Fiddler. Yet another Fiddler in New York featured Ms. Harvery Fierston…nothing to write home about The Yiddish Fiddler, directed by Joel Grey was cunning, touching and had very spartan sets and costumes. But the spirit was abundant, and should be seen by Yiddish lovers around the world, from my mouth to God’s ears….halevi. But oh, the Kosky Fiddler….I hope I live to see it.

  • Alviano says:

    Why does Barrie need defended? He is doing just fine.

  • X says:

    I really appreciate Barrie Kosky, but this letter is pure fan mail.

    And no, a travelling production is as expensive as an own production of the company, therefore I totally don’t get this trend of the productions being sold around. Such a sad lack of creativity and diversity, not to mention a waste of money.

    All in for travelling productions – but in a globalised world with all the possibilities it brings, it’s nice to have some local individual colour.

  • Akutagawa says:

    “Since his grandparents came from a shtetl in Belarus, Kosky has the credential (sic) for Fiddler.”

    If you’re going to make that kind of argument, then you’re also going to have to accept that since his grandparents came from a shtetl in Belarus, Kosky doesn’t have the credential for Parsifal. Is this kind of racial essentialising really helpful?