We recently came across a text that, although almost 25 years old, is more contemporary than ever. At the opening of the Salzburg Festival, writer Daniel Kehlmann formulated a sharp critique of directorial theater and fervently defended libretto-faithful productions – also erroneously called “traditional” or “conservative” productions. Respect for the artistic integrity for the creators, in this case the composer and librettist, is timeless and thus can never be “traditional” and, in today’s opera-Umwelt, certainly not “conservative.”
Daniel Kehlmann argued with extraordinary realism that directorial theater had “degenerated into the last remaining shrunken form of leftist ideology.” He too noted that criticism of “the already tried-and-true ingredients of so-called actualization” had nothing to do with “reactionary” or whatever else. In times when nobody reads Karl Marx anymore and controversial discussions are really only about sports, director’s theater has “degenerated into the last remaining shrunken form of left-wing ideology.” Many a “highly subsidized absurdity” is the result of the “most momentous alliance of recent decades: the alliance of kitsch and avant-garde,” according to Kehlmann.
If you want a closer look at highly subsidized absurdities, Amsterdam is an excellent place to go. An unprecedented low point was the unsanitary travesty Der Freischütz, performed in 2022 at The Dutch National Opera, prepared in the moldy cooking pot of greaseball and narcissist Kirill Serebrennikov, who seems destined to become house director at DNO.
The errant Serebrennikov displays no trace of respect for composer Carl Maria von Weber and librettist Johann Friedrich Kind either; thinking is apparently anathema to him. What the priapist bungler Serebrennikov brings us in “his Freischütz,” for example, is an exercise in onanism to the delicate sounds of a girl’s choir. How delicate! Flat jokes and a chorus of hunters in tuxedos, the pitiful eruption of “disruptive, contemporary and urgent musical theater.”
Well, that chorus of hunters in tuxedos: welcomed with shocking exuberance by People of Now and enlightened reviewers in the national dailies. In the Volkskrant, Maartje Stokkers concludes her review with “Shamelessly laughing at what is actually a serious opera does work so liberating,” an IQ 50-70-level comment that is as puzzling as it is inane. “so liberating….” (????), the opened window of a drafty thinking frame.