The most terrible, dilettante performance ever seen at Vienna State Opera

The most terrible, dilettante performance ever seen at Vienna State Opera


norman lebrecht

April 23, 2022

From a review of Calixto Bieito’s production of Tristan und Isolde, in Der Merker online:

Let’s sum it up quite clearly: This evening was by far the most terrible and dilettante performance we have ever seen on the stage of Vienna State Opera. Actually we feel betrayed and want our money back, as this was much below the standards that can be expected as a minimum for a house with this history. It marks the provisional low point of director BOGDAN ROSCIC‘s consequent aim to bring in modernist litter that has nothing to do with being contemporary or even provocative. Regrettably, we expect that there is much more to come in the future and state it very direct: Enough is enough.


  • Karl says:

    Every word is true. I could not agree more. Roscic get out – the sooner the better!!!!!

    • soavemusica says:

      “Modernist litter that has nothing to do with being contemporary or even provocative”- why attend? Still? Opera is dead.

  • S Corn says:

    I get the impression that Eric A. Leuer thinks he wasted an evening.

    Not good for Vienna Opera.

  • Karl says:

    ROSCIC ist the worst Opera Director of the last 50 years. Here the list of his victims: La Traviata, Faust, Carmen, Parsifal, Il Barbiere, Don Giovanni, Wozzeck, Tristan

  • Tristan for ever says:

    The article from Eric A. Leuer is the most hilarious thing I have read in the musical press in years.

    “we feel betrayed and want our money back”
    Good luck!

  • Michael says:

    This extreme negative diatribe contrasts with several other German-language reviews I have seen, eg Wiener Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung. This extract from SZ (tr by Google, thank you) clearly shows Bieito has some interesting things to tell us, to challenge us about this great and complex work, about which a traditional production tells us nothing, well nothing more than we would get by just listening to our CDs in a darkened room.

    “This man [Tristan] does not manage to detach himself from his constraints and his death fixation on his own. He can only murder himself, he can only devastate himself. Thus, the Viennese “Tristan” is a study on the psychopathology of love life, but far from basically telling something about love.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      “……. a traditional production tells us nothing, well nothing more than we would get by just listening to our CDs in a darkened room.”

      THIS is the fundamental mistake Regietheater producers take as their point of departure, thinking that something has to be added to the work.

      What is the difference between listening to you CD at home of Tristan and experiencing live a ‘traditional’ production, i.e. a production that realises the work from the work outwards, with understanding of the plot? In such production there is a wide margin of interpretation, since visuals cannot be fixed in the original score, so that lots of nuances can be created and still be loyal to the work. Experiencing such production in the theatre is the entirety of the work, while only the music at home is the heart of the work without its clothing, it is a reduction.

      • Michael says:

        I simply do not believe any Regietheater producers whose work I have experienced “take as their point of departure, thinking that something has to be added to the work”. I believe they all start with “what’s this opera about?” The fact that operagoers sometimes, ok often!, don’t agree with some or all of the result is, in my opinion, usually THEIR (yes including my!) fault, not the director’s.

        I also have always thought that Wagner, with his rebellious and inventive nature, would have been delighted by “Regietheater”, praising the imagination required to interpret his great and complex Gesamtkunstwerke. Above all he would have welcomed the controversies and the resulting detailed discussion and analysis of his work, with “understanding of the plot” way down the list of priorities.

        For many years I have found little to LEARN in any kind of staging of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, much as I still love going to performances, but with Wagner it is completely different, with all directors, Régie or not, telling me something I did not know.

      • Carlos says:

        Parole Sante.

    • Clem says:

      Thank you. I’m very much looking forward to seeing and hearing this next weekend. As to the review, “BOGDAN ROSCIC‘s consequent aim to bring in modernist litter” is a clear clue. This is a reviewer who has decided to simply reject everything put on stage by Vienna opera today. That makes his review of this specific production largely irrelevant.

    • Carlos says:

      “This extract from SZ (tr by Google, thank you) clearly shows Bieito has some interesting things to tell us, to challenge us about this great and complex work, about which a traditional production tells us nothing, well nothing more than we would get by just listening to our CDs in a darkened room.”

      Only unimaginative people are unable to see a multitude of meanings in productions (modern ou tradicional) that are respectful with the art work they aim to materialize on stage.
      For these, actually, being guided by Bieito’s dirty hands is essential.

  • Carlos says:

    Bravíssimo! Enough is enough. Mr. Rosčic, RAUS!!!

    • Jonathan Sutherland says:

      Who would have thought it would take a belligerent, abrasive, no prior experience in an opera house Serb to make the egregious Dominique Meyer look good?

  • Wiener says:

    Sehr richtig

  • Petros Linardos says:

    To attack Roscic is to miss the point. Bad direction has trashed opera for decades. It’s high time to move on from Regietheater.

    • AndrewB says:

      I would say there is good and bad Regietheater just as there are good and bad more traditional productions. Whatever style a Producer develops or prefers surely the point is that they have a coherent idea which holds from the beginning to the end of the piece.
      This should reflect a detailed study of the libretto and how the composer responded to it – musical and textual intentions I think.
      What I would like to see is more attention in staging given to the fact that a singer who is singing against a very thick orchestration ( often in Wagner and Strauss for example) should be well placed on stage by the producer to be heard. Equally perhaps some conductors could focus on a better coordination between the orchestral sound from the pit and the voices on stage.
      After all , opera relies on voice , music and drama to achieve its maximum impact. Part of the drama is carried in the voice. The achievement of balance in all these elements surely indicates a successful performance?
      For decades now singers have been pliant in working to fulfill opera producers staging ideas and requests. Long may that continue , but let there be more acknowledgement that opera is a vocal art form and we want to be able to hear the singers.

      • Nanorama says:

        As a former opera singer, I can attest that being asked to sing while descending in 3 inch heels on a raked stage should involve way more life insurance. Damn all the fashion forward directors with their visions that interfere with one’s ability to convey the music and the meaning.

    • guest says:

      “To attack Roscic is to miss the point.”
      Not quite.
      It’s people like Bogdan who keep Regietheater in business, who hire the Bieitos of this world. And the population pays for both – CB’s garbage and Bogdan’s salary.

      • Petros LInardos says:

        What is so different about Roscic, except for the ritual bashing in this space? Which major opera house directors currently do not hire the likes of Bieito?

        In Vienna we have to go back to at least Klaus Helmut Drese in the 80s. Similar arguments can be made for most major European opera houses. The MET was spared until, well, Peter Gelb took over in the mid 2000s. I believe La Scala also was spared until Muti left, also in the mid 2000s.

        • guest says:

          Nothing is much different about Bogdan, unfortunately, and my comment wasn’t aimed specifically at him, or specifically at Bieito. “It’s _people_ like Bogdan”, hint, hint.

          You are naive if you believe Regietheater will go away on its own. The reason Regieth. exists at all is because it has an infrastructure that keeps it alive – opera managers like Bogdan, pseudo-intellectual “critics”, and politicians with no musical education and no interest in the arts, who take their cues from the first two categories, and open the state coffers every time Bogdan asks for money for a new RT production (In Peter Gelb’s case, very rich people who open their own coffers). The entire system is corrupt, none of these people believe they are accountable. Without these three categories of people to backup RT, we wouldn’t even know about it – the Bieiltos of this world would stay in their holes where the sun doesn’t shine, and the rest of the world would carry on without them.

          There’s no shortage of garbage fast food in supermarkets, and no shortage of advertising, yet how many well off people buy the stuff en masse, regularly? This is exactly what people like Bogdan do. Bogdan has money yet he buys garbage. And he does so with taxpayer money, and feeds the garbage down other people’s throats. I have no objection to his buying garbage for himself, with his own money, but this is exactly what he doesn’t do. As long as he wastes state funds on RT productions, there will be no funds for other productions, and as long as sees to it that RT productions are staged, there will be no room for other productions, because no theater maintains two productions of the same work. He is more than complicit in this scheme because he has decision power. Bieilto is just a shmuck, Bogdan is the one who hired the shmuck, well knowing what a shmuck he is. Why should people like Bogdan get a pass?

          • Petros Linardos says:

            I generally agree with your thoughts. Regietheater will not go away on its own.

            I did, from live opera. I know many others who didn’t, though they miss the likes Otto Schenk and Günther Schneider-Siemssen.

            Jonas Kaufman is on record for politely speaking up against Regietheater. Barbara Bonney is on record for having given up opera in the last decade of her career, due to absence of good directors (though not explicitly because of Regietheater). But they are in a minority.

            If Roscic goes away, he’ll most likely be replaced by someone else who does more of the same.

            They shouldn’t get a pass, but they do. The question is what will it take for this to change? I don’t know, but hope that more artists and art consumers will walk away.

        • Karl says:

          When Mr Gelb is mentioned. Yes, who managed to empty the MET. Mister Gelb!!!!

  • Vienna calling says:

    No Kurwenal in the second performance? Also, the production wasn’t great but far less offensive than the reviewer‘s atrocious English. Talk about hybris… Pay a translator, Merker.

  • Elsie says:

    Maybe the time has come to flush Bogdan down the bogdan.

  • leo grinhauz says:

    This is wonderful! i haven’t read a hostile music review in way too long! Everything is usually “just great” with everyone playing “just great” until it’s just freaking unbearable. Hey, with enough of these you might just turn things around…wait, maybe we can make classical music great again!

  • Joel says:

    I totally disagree with that article. I am a Wagnerian and it is my first Tristan where I was not bored during act 2. Not a single boo at the end. Not to mention the great performance of Andreas Schager as Tristan. I highly enjoyed the performance of Martina Serafin as Isolde. Highly recommended. Will see it again. JL

    • christopher storey says:

      One born every minute

    • Harry Collier says:

      You don’t “see” an opera; you listen to the music and the singing. Prima la musica, poi le parole — and close your eyes to the stage director’s ego trips. Figaro, Giulio Cesare, il Trovatore, Tristan & Isolde have not survived the centuries because of their theatrical plots. They have survived because of the MUSIC.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      I don’t think anyone’s criticising the singers, though.

    • Bloom says:

      Yeah, it is amazing.

  • JB says:

    “Mr. Jordan should better conduct a marching band” – this critic cannot be taken serious. I heard Jordan conducting Wagner several times in Paris and Bayreuth. He is no genius, but certainly a subtle conductor of Wagner.

  • IP says:

    It hurts me to see Mr. Roscic so severely unappreciated. I am sure that, given the chance, he has the potential to go much, much lower, to depths yet unexperienced.

  • Norabide Guziak says:

    You hire Bieito, you get shit. This is common knowledge. You have to love Der Merker, though; these people attend and review every performance at the Staatsoper. They know their stuff.

    • Nick2 says:

      Norabide Guziak is spot on. Hire Bieito and you know what you will get when the curtain goes up. As long as Intendants hire this producer who seems to do his best to destroy the meaning of opera they will get what they deserve. But it’s not just Bieito. It’s that whole panoply of regietheater directors who need to be cleared out. Christophe Honore’s sexually brutal and hideously explicit Cosi fan tutte set in 1930s Eritrea and seen at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago started with a rape during the overture. What in that delicate beautiful overture indicates rape? The theme of the opera may be a sexual power play but nothing in Mozart’s music, no matter that it was gloriously played and sung, merits such gross excess of staging.

  • Michael says:

    “…we…want our money back” Do the critics for Der Merker have to buy their own tickets?

  • wiener says:

    Jordan ist das Problem

  • MPMcGrath says:

    When we boycott such vile eurotrash, when the house stays empty, when ticket sales fall – then we will see fewer crap productions like this.

  • Hugh Kerr says:

    Watching it now and yes it’s a crap production but really well sung just don’t watch it!