Dumb cops: Vienna Opera thinks Mahler is for dancing

Dumb cops: Vienna Opera thinks Mahler is for dancing


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2022

One of the worst afternoons of my life was sacrificed to the Vienna Opera’s version of Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography of Das Lied von der Erde, beautifully played by the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit and tolerably well sung by company principals, but danced with such lack of Mahlerian and MacMillannian idiom that I had no fingernails left to chew by the final Ewig.

Endurances like this are imprinted on some remote lobe of the brain, never to be forgotten when far happier times are forgotten.

Now, the Vienna Opera is threatening to dance Mahler’s fourth symphony with 100 dancers and a first-time choreographer. They are callng it Mahler Live.

Please not. Please.

Martin Schläpfers erste Produktion für das Wiener Staatsballett bringt zu Gustav Mahlers Symphonie Nr. 4 das gesamte Ensemble von über 100 Tänzer*innen in einem berührenden Welttheater über die Sehnsüchte und Verlorenheiten, Träume und Verwerfungen des modernen Menschen auf die Bühne. Eröffnet wird der zweiteilige Abend von Hans van Manens Videoballett Live – einem faszinierendem Ausloten der Mechanismen der Wahrnehmung für eine Ballerina, einen Danseur Noble, einen Kameramann und eine Pianistin.


  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Vienna always had a strange and sometime shameful relationship with Mahler. Of course when he was at the opera when people refused to hear or play his music, of course during the 30’s and 40’s. Mahler was for music what Klimt was for painting… But after those moments things never realy change. Mahler’s music was rarely played or it was played like it was a rendez vous at the dentist in the 60’s. I remember a moment with Bernstein in Vienna. And today it’s almost impossible to find in town any traces of Mahler in Vienna; For me it was very complicated to find the Mahler’s thomb in Grinzing. The absence of the Mahler cultur in Vienna was shoking I have to say when I came there.

    • Stuart Doughty says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I had a similar experience in Grinzing cemetery more than 30 years ago. The cemetery office was closed so I asked several locals if they knew where the grave was. Everyone I spoke to had never heard of Mahler. By this time the office had opened so I enquired at the reception. I was asked to spell the name of the person I was looking for because they too had never heard of him. They eventually came up with the right location.
      To be fair to the authorities, things are now better and the location can easily be found on various websites (http://www.viennatouristguide.at/Friedhoefe/Grinzing/pers_grinzing/mahler_gustav_E.htm)

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        I came in Vienna in 2016 without Google Map. To find the cemetery with some friends I had to ask in a supermarket…I talked about Mahler… It was strange and embarassing I have to say. Frankly. But I have to say also that Grinzing is very nice little town to have a good lunch. But… at the end of it there’s a kind of bitterness if you like Mahler. One day maybe I will go in his village when he was young. or maybe the real Mahler’s place is the Concertgebouw…

      • Paul Johnson says:

        When Michael Tilson Thomas visited for the first time, he asked the warden where Mahler’s grave was. The warden replied “Gustav Mahler? Ah, the conductor.”

    • Michael in Dresden says:

      While Vienna’s attitude towards Mahler has always been problematic, “today it’s almost impossible to find in town any traces of Mahler in Vienna” seems a bit remote from reality. The Philharmoniker, the Symphoniker, the Radio-Symphonieorchester, the Tonkünstler, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester… not to mention all the guest orchestras, supply Vienna with Mahler regularly and opulently. Here are some events during the upcoming week: https://bachtrack.com/de_DE/search-concerts/country=austria;composer=mahler (Yes I know, that’s not just Vienna.) Or do “traces” mean activities outside the concert hall?

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        A statue for exemple… Bruckner and Brahms have one for exemple. Some post card in the souvenirs shop. Or some little things like the ones you can find in Bayreuth with Wagner. I know it’s futile but it says a lot…

    • Rich C. says:

      I don’t know how you can say “today it’s almost impossible to find in town any traces of Mahler in Vienna”. There are plaques on his apartment building and at the sanitarium where he died. The Opera house has a bust of him and the gift shop there has lots of GM stuff. And the House of Music has a little GM display. There is also a Mahlerstrasse.

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        Yes but… when I came in Vienna I have seen a lot refenrences about music; Mozart of course Beethoven, Strauss in souvenirs shops. Downtown I have seen absolutly nothing with Mahler. Worst in Grinzing. But that don’t mean that i don’t like Vienna don’t wory.

  • Angela says:

    The “first-time choreographer” is Martin Schläpfer, he has made around 80 ballets since 1995, he was ballet director at Bern, Mainz, Düsseldorf and now at Vienna, he was named “Choreographer of the year” several times in Germany and received lots of awards and recognitions. He works in a modern, neoclassical ballet style and is one of the finest, most inventive choreographers we have in Europe (not that you would know that in Great Britain, always being late with choreographers from the continent).

    “Mahler, Live” premiered in December 2020 as an online-only event because of the pandemic, it received rave reviews in Vienna and now it will be danced live in front of an audience for the first time.

    If you are so full of prejudice, at least check out the names and events correctly. You got all your facts wrong here.

    • guest says:

      “he was named “Choreographer of the year” several times in Germany and received lots of awards and recognitions”

      This alone is reason enough for running in the opposite direction.

    • Mouse says:

      Hey Angela, it’s SD! It’s all about klicks, not facts.

  • Patrick says:

    It’s a freaking symphony orchestra. Isn’t there enough to look at?!

  • Kenny says:

    John Neumeier’s been foisting this stuff on audiences for 45 years. There is nothing new under the sun.

  • Novagerio says:

    Did you know that John Neumeier did a Mahler Third for his Hamburg Ballet – for only male dancers, that was pretty much legendarian?
    You can even find a few clips on the Tube

    • Novagerio says:

      And who’s the self-denying troll who constantly puts a thumb-down on facts?
      Actually, it is a great production.

    • Foxxy says:

      What is it with Hamburg and ballet? I saw the St Matthew Passion danced to there. The music of course was wonderful, but I had to close my eyes so as not to spoil it.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That looks like a frustrated heroism until the ladies come-in and relieve the mood.

      Mahler does not need visuals in this way.

  • Gustavo says:

    Have you tried John Neumeier’s version in Hamburg?


    If it has to be a Mahler ballet.

    Neumeier has also done Mahler 3. I almost went but then got distracted by the real thing.

    • Kenny says:

      “Neumeier has also choreographed a number of ballets to the music of Gustav Mahler, including the biographical Purgatorio (2011), set to Deryck Cooke’s reconstruction of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. In addition, Neumeier has choreographed Mahler’s First (Lieb’ und Leid und Welt und Traum, Ballet of the 20th Century, 1980), Third (1975), Fourth (Royal Ballet, 1977), Fifth (1989), Sixth (1984) and Ninth (In the Between, 1994) symphonies, as well as the Rückert-Lieder (1976), Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Soldier Songs, 1989) and Song of the Earth (Paris Opera Ballet, 2015).” — Wikipedia

    • John Borstlap says:

      It should be strictly forbidden to use Das Lied for a ballet. It is forcing the music into prostitution.

      • music lover says:

        Borstlap, the equilavent of a musical conspiracy theorist.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Thank you, John Bortslap, the universally acknowledged arbiter of all music.
        I humbly bow before your all-knowingness.

      • music lover says:

        It may have escaped your attention …but we live in a democratic,free ,pluralist society.The times when artistic contributions were forbidden,are over,at least in western democracies.There are ,however,countries,where they still are forbidden,or censored.Maybe your pleas would be heard there.

  • msc says:

    Wir tanzen und springen,
    Wir hüpfen und singen,
    Wir führen ein geduldig’s,
    Unschuldig’s, geduldig’s,
    Ein liebliches Lämmlein zu Tod.

  • Piano Lover says:

    This happens when “musicians” are getting bored and want to be famous.
    There should be “moral rights” to prevent and forbid such behaviour but Mahler had no lineage so that no one will complain except individuals like you and I Norman.

    • guest says:

      This happens when mediocre contemporary choreographers want to be famous.

      “Lineage” wouldn’t make any difference in Mahler’s case. All 19th century composers are in the same situation, their oeuvre is public domain. You should have known this. Public domain works can be grabbed by every Tom, Dick, and Harry – riding coattails is very popular sport, particularly in opera. I wonder what all these wannabe artists would do without the public domain heritage ? There isn’t half of an original idea between all of them.

    • Mouse says:

      …and nobody cares. Sad perspective for you both, isn’t it.

  • guest says:

    Has nobody thought to tell them the Staatsballett doesn’t have 100 dancers?

  • Will Wilkin says:

    Probably there will be some people whose first introduction to Mahler’s music comes through these performances. Although anyone exploring symphonic music will pretty quickly encounter the great symphonies of Maestro Gustav Mahler!

  • Tancredi says:

    A shame. MacMillan’s ballet at Covent Garden was my introduction to Mahler an indecent number of years ago: I went straight out and bought an LP. I suspect the Vienna interpretation may have been rather too ‘dancey’ in the Viennese manner.