Regietheater. A flagrant breach of artistic integrity
Regietheater has been a source of controversy in the opera world for decades. Except for those who don’t know any better, because they are too young to have had any experience of the real thing. The so-called avant-garde approach (with its mantra of “urgent, actueel, disorienting”) to staging and interpreting opera has already attracted countless, often well-founded, criticisms. Those in favour claim that Regietheater revitalises the so-called “traditional” opera and allows for a creative reinterpretation. The point, however, is that opera and opera lovers don’t need revitalisation, let alone ‘reinterpretation’, creative or otherwise. Opera ‘as is’, libretto faithful opera, is simply a matter of artistic integrity, authenticity and, in polemical terms, often summed up as ‘the preservation of the operatic tradition’. It is difficult to argue with Regietheater bigots. Indeed, it is impossible to argue with them without failing to win.
Loss of authenticity
One of the main objections to Regietheater is the loss of authenticity. Offence to composers, librettists, performers and the right-thinking section of the public. Libretto operas often tell stories that are deeply rooted in a specific historical and cultural context. That’s what the Regietheater lacks… The Divine Director transposes these stories to another “setting”, because the Divine Director knows what the opera “really wants to say”. The audience obviously cannot judge this? The original historical or cultural background – in which many people are interested (opera is an episodic art form) – is erased. The authenticity and emotional impact of the original is shredded. The audience has to face a “challenge” to connect with the intended message of the director, not the composer and librettist.
ultimate bullshit #1
Shock and controversy have unfortunately been taking priority over musical and dramatic content for decades. Directors introduce provocative and gratuitous elements into their productions “to provoke discussion”. Discussion? Why? Quasi-weighty chatter more often than not detracts from the core themes and emotions of the opera, leaving the audience more focused on the shock factor than the music and libretto. If you like to hear yourself talk, come to the Conversation Goup “Close to yourself, close to the other”, which meets every week in your community centre.
The composer’s intention, an outdated principle
The composer’s original intention has been crushed by the director’s “vision” (a nonsensical term in this context). Verdi and Wagner, for example, carefully provided their works with specific dramatic and musical instructions, some of which were extremely detailed. The so-called “reinterpretation” (another completely nonsensical term) disregards these wishes. Now, we can only recognise an opera by its music, or by wading through the notes in the programme. There we find what the composer “actually” intended.
The conductor: a minor detail
50 per cent of our great conductors are annoyed by the idiocies that they are asked to accompany. The next 25% are also annoyed by the idiocies they have to accompany, but also have the courage to say something about it (muti e tutti quanti), and the last 25% have the motto “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Not only does the conductor have very little to say, but there is also an annoying disconnect between the musical and dramatic aspects of the performance. How strange that today’s audiences accept the fact that the sung text is no longer in any way in relation to the stage setting.
ultimate bullshit #2
The so called “traditional” audience. Dead or staying at home.
Opera used to have a dedicated and often knowledgeable audience, genuinely interested in the historical and cultural context of the opera. Many opera lovers have already dropped out because of the rape of the libretto. They and other right-thinking people feel no attachment to a Tosca (Bieito) full of paedophilia and sadomasochism; Roberto Alanga and Aleksandra Kurzak had also wisely withdrawn from this Barcelona production.
Experiments at the expense of magisterial music
Experiments are disturbing, they distract from the musical and narrative essence. This is not to say that visual optimisation, thanks to all kinds of technological advances, is out of the question. On the contrary. But ridiculous costume choices and extravagant sets only distract. They undermine the essence of opera as a synthesis of music and drama.
On many occasions, directors of opera houses are so filled with their self-righteous “artistic expression” that they put their own vision ahead of the integrity of the opera. It’s all about the director, not about the composer and the librettist. Re-imposing the Straitjacket deserves consideration.
ultimate bullshit #3
Alienation also applies to new audiences
Although the Regietheater seems to attract a younger audience (they don’t know any better; they’ve never been to The Real Thing), at the same time it will alienate potential newcomers looking for an authentic and faithful introduction to the world of opera. A divided audience, in other words, is not conducive to the long-term survival of the art form.
The technical innovations (still disappointing in some opera houses) can only benefit the development of the art form. But innovation should never come at the expense of the core elements that define opera – the music, the storytelling that goes with it, and the emotional depth that comes from the collaboration between composer and librettist.
In conclusion, objections to Regietheater in opera are rooted in concerns about preserving tradition, artistic integrity and authenticity. While proponents argue that direct theatre offers fresh perspectives and creative re-interpretations, critics stress the need to maintain a strong connection with the composer’s intention, the historical context and the emotional power of the music. Ultimately, the debate over Regietheater reflects the tension within the world of opera between the worship of innovation for innovation’s sake and the respect for the original work of art. Respect for its creators, the composer and librettist, is crucial to the evolution of our beloved art form.