Struck Blind (english)

Bravo Alberto!

In Festival Puccini on 14 July, maestro Alberto Veronesi conducted La Bohème wearing a blindfold (with peepholes) in protest against the violation of pre-arranged agreements with director Christophe Gayral. The agreement was that the opera would not have political overtones but it got those nonetheless: an ode to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

One might say: a playful, and compared to the way opera directors mutilate masterpieces, also innocent action by the conductor. On the opera stage today, explicit sex scenes, brutal rapes and cruel torture are revealed in detail that have no relation whatsoever to the libretto in question. But now, for once, there was a common sense conductor protesting in an original way against yet another nonsensical “relocation” (we can no longer hear the word) of an opera: La Bohème was, in fact, transported to the riotous Paris of 1968 (for the connection, you have to have a vivid if not unhealthy imagination) and thus did not take place in the spaceship Puccini always envisaged. The result of Veronesi’s playful action: immense and hypocritical indignation among the People of Today!

A typical 19th-century moped turns up in the second act, which this time did meet with disapproving noises from the audience. At the end of the opera, there were both applause and also fierce protests.

Peter van der Lint
Dutch journalist Peter van der Lint in the 19 July newspaper Trouw.
Fairly alone”…. “almost everyone”… “some of the audience”

In the Dutch daily Trouw of 19 July, opera critic Peter van der Lint devoted a column to the incident. Which went, paragraph by paragraph, like this:

Peter van der Lint: “Alberto Veronesi himself probably thought he was making a fantastic statement. But he was fairly alone in that, because almost everyone thought he was an imbecile [imbécile]. In any case, he was well booed after his speech by part of the premiere audience at the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Italy.”

Fairly alone”, “almost everyone”, “some of the audience”. These are the awkward attempts of someone who wants to throw the stylistic hyperbole into the equation but at the same time wants to cover himself.

Peter van der Lint: “What was going on? Because Veronesi disagreed with the staging of Puccini’s popular opera La Bohème, he briefly explained this to the audience beforehand [neat! OK] and then tied a blindfold on in protest. Then the look-at-me maestro conducted the entire opera with that thing on. In the Italian press, and far beyond, Veronesi’s action was dismissed as ludicrous and abjectly politically motivated.”

Struck Blind (english)
Puccini’s meesterwerk tussen gebalde vuisten en rode vlaggen

“ridiculous and abjectly politically motivated”.

The chutzpah! While operaland is being nuclear destroyed by ridiculous and abjectly politically motivated “look at me” lamebones, a playful eye patch is suddenly the stepping stone to the end of democracy.

As if the coffee lady at Wells City Hall served a cup of coffee instead of a cup of tea at 3pm, and is now being condemned for being complicit with the Brazilian coffee mafia.

Incidentally, Veronesi initially came to his protest not because he disapproved of the 1968 Bohemia, but because agreements were not kept. Moreover, numerous pro-Veronesi voices could also be heard in the press and on social media.

Peter van der Lint: “Director Christophe Gayral had moved the story about penniless students in 19th-century Paris to the Paris of the 1968 student uprisings. A perfectly justified choice. But to ultra-right-wing Italians and rigid opera purists, such an intervention is a crime against a national symbol, whose 100th death anniversary will be celebrated grandly next year. Puccini would no longer be Puccini.”

Right, “moved to the Paris of the 1968 student uprisings. A perfectly justified choice.” Such a pity that the arguments for that choice of 1968 (as always in such cases) are not explained in any way. Peter van der Lint also seems to know exactly who in Italy are proponents of libretto faithful performance of opera: they are the “ultra-right-wing Italians” (first prize in the championship utter nonsense) and “rigid opera purists” (in Van der Lint’s superficial tirade, he also throws in a solid pleonasm).

So much for Dutch reviewer Peter van der Lint’s tendentious and ill-considered column.

Struck Blind (english)
Puccini, the revolutionary of 1968

Italy’s undersecretary for culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, had already advised Veronesi against conducting the opera because the staging “betrays the spirit and vision of Puccini”. Veronesi himself said of his playful protest that he had “given a very clear but innocent demonstration of his dislike of this direction, which was also very different from what had been agreed months earlier”.

The conductor indicated that he had explicitly asked for no political propaganda to be incorporated in the direction, but instead this version is all propaganda. But Veronesi was contractually bound.

Opinion crime (not just in Amsterdam)

Repeats are scheduled for 29 July and then 10 and 25 August, but Festival president Luigi Ficacci has decided to send the maestro away. Veronesi: “They can’t say I don’t know how to conduct: I’ve been doing the Festival for 25 years. This is obviously a political vendetta is, an opinion crime.”

Perhaps the question arises why Veronesi did not raise the alarm with director Christophe Gayral earlier. Veronesi: “We met several times and agreed that politics would stay out of it.” And there was, of course, the above-mentioned contract.

Veronesi joins a line of leading conductors who are increasingly agitating against the Regietheater. But Mona Lisa with a beard still exists. Complete with advertorials in national newspapers.

Olivier Keegel

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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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