The Non-Blatherskites. Part 5. David McVicar.

“I am an alcoholic”

This article is about David McVicar, who has nothing to do with the above heading. But first this: on the Dutch website of Anonymous Alcoholics it says in their mission that they want help people “discover their alcoholism”. It’s like going to a burns center to learn how to loosely handle the barbecue. We don’t know any anonymous alcoholics ourselves; we know them all by name. The AA-meetings and their creepy rituals are mostly known to us from American movies. Very creepy meetings indeed. Joseh MacQuoid from Albuquerque drank two beers too much in 1979, then never touched a drop again, but still has to introduce himself in the group as: “I am Joseph Macqoid, I AM AN ALCOHOLIC”. All: “Hello, Joseph”.   (Try not to throw up.)

Such a scene immediately makes you reach for the tequila, doesn’t it ?

You can have any review automatically translated. Click the Google Translate button (“Vertalen”), which can be found at the top right of the page. In the Contact Page, the button is in the right column. Select your language at the upper left.


AA meetings are forms of organized envy towards people who want to create some pleasure in life. Ever since the days of early socialism they want to deny The Hardworking, Law-Abiding Citizen his well-earned nip!

It gets much lugubrious when an AA’er has succumbed to the drink devil and has to confess in “the group”. Then, he tells his horrible story (consumed 2 rumbeans at the neighbour’s), after which “the group” rushes at him en masse with “hugs”. Followed by a horrendous: “Thank you for sharing this with us, Kevin”.

Given all this, it is highly unfair to blame an innocent bat for Corona!

In popular American language, falling back on old alcoholic cozy habits is called “to fall off the wagon”. Very strange imagery, because just when you FALL off the wagon, there is a suspicion of alcohol abuse.

These thoughts about the fruits of the vinyard came to mind when the next Non-Blatherskite director came up for discussion on the editorial Opera Gazet board: Mr. David McVicar. Feverish discussions and fierce differences of opinion were exchanged by video conference between our reviewers in Zurich, Amsterdam, Milan and Paris. One of them fought hard for McVicar to award him the coveted title of “Non-Blatherskite Director”, while the other had strong, hard-to-deny objections: McVicar fell of the wagon just a little bit too often.

We came to a wonderful compromise, thanks to Schubert. One of our videoconferencers stepped away from the video screen, and put Schubert’s Impromptu in A-flat minor, Op. 90, no. 4 on the turntable. Starts in minor, but ends in major. We understood the hint: first go through McVicar’s lesser productions and conclude with a small, random selection from his numerous superb directions. After reading this article, you may think: “But you have not discussed this and that opera! Eligere necesse est (choosing is necessary [when publishing]) Caesar wrote in the foreword of his exciting -a boy’s book similar- De Bello Gallico.

I Masnadieri

One of Mr. McVicar’s lesser directions is, for example, I Masnadieri – see video above from the 18/19 season in the Scala. The Verdi opera is borrowed from Die Räuber by Friedrich von Schiller. An opera full of inconsistencies in the exuberant libretto. Who cares, we would say.

We are used to Mr. McVicar respecting the libretto, but in his version of I Masnadieri (moved (!) to the 18th century) we see military barracks being dismantled as the drama unfolds. However, that is not what the opera is about. A negative point. The addition of a libretto-external figure (“Schiller” overseeing the action) is also a blatherskite ingredient, which has already been pushed down our throats a thousand times. Big negative point. The actions do not conform to the libretto but are cast in a conceptual straitjacket. Negative point. Part of the stage is reserved for a group of mime players, dressed up as Captain Hook, and perform inexplicable choreographies (shown briefly on the trailer).

But Mr. McVicar, you can do so much better that that!

Mr. McVicar fell off the wagon more than once. Take the 20-year-old production Agrippina, recently performed in the MET. The generous morals and the refreshing straightforward power politics of the Romans, were… shifted… to…. The Modern Age! And there was a … FRAME STORY!
“Of course, the political world is, if anything, even crazier, and in some ways closer to the brutal politics of ancient Rome, than it actually was 20 years ago,” Mr. McVicar said. — Excuse me, is Mr. McVicar a political commentator?

In the New York Times a reader wrote: “Such a shame the Met has decided that the audience wants to relive its current sleazy history rather than be taken back to ancient history.  (…) That’s not the reason I go to the opera.  Take me to a different time and place.” Excellently worded. Very to the point.

High time to shift our attention to Sir McVicar’s more enjoyable productions, which are generally praiseworthy because he does not, like many of his colleagues, attack the operas with the demolition hammer. Mr. McVicar has stated that he will no longer accept work in Germany, where, according to him, “the production style is now so navel-gazing and so extreme that the public has been excluded for a quarter of a century”. It is understandable that the Netherlands will suffer the same fate: we have not yet welcomed a director of his stature (let alone himself) at the National Opera. However, DNO did put itself on the world map with the wonderful, world-famous opera Waiting for Miss Monroe, directed by Lotte de Beer (big fan! NOT). (Zero performances outside Amsterdam, as far as we know).

One of our many McVicar favorites is his Trovatore. The dark atmosphere of Il Trovatore was never better depicted. The “confusing libretto” (when do we ever stop whining about that ?) is quickly forgotten when the audience is confronted with this captivating, gloomy direction: civil war, family disruption, and all that kind of amusing misery.

Roberto Devereux is another of Mr. McVicar’s masterpieces. Un petit bémol is his decision to place this opera “in a theatre” (known as notorious Blatherskite cliché), but it does not become that problematic. The set is based on simplicity and intimacy, and is extremely captivating.  The final scene in which Elizabeth takes off her wig is legendary.

In conclusion. From the section faits divers. For the Viennese Falstaff, Zubin Mehta demanded that McVicar would be his director. At his advanced age, Mr. Mehta finally wanted to work with one of the best directors at hand, one who respected both Verdi and the libretto.

Olivier Keegel

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor since 2019. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments