The death of Regietheater

This article was published in French on Forumopera. Click here for the original. The author is Camille De Rijck. The translation was made with help from Franco Ligabue.

La bohème, Paris, 2017

The Regietheater is born of a post-Adornian gesture of great sincerity which is often summarized in these columns: after the Second World War, after the Shoah, how to accept the very idea of entertainment? In Germany, progressive movements hoped to make a clean sweep of a society that had helped to destroy the world. People began to erode the base and the marble of the pillars of a culture that had failed to protect the nations from their worst demons.

Carmen, Stuttgart 2011

Opera was among the first to be sentenced. The need was clear to settle the score with a bourgeois, glitzy and compromised art form, from Wagner to Pfitzner. Thus, we witnessed the sacking of a genre, its summary execution, its dismemberment for intelligence with the enemy. For ten, twenty, thirty years, the new supporters of this art subjected it to a thousand transformations. The enterprise was exciting and helped to enrich a genre that was believed to be dead and buried.

Un ballo in maschera, Barcelona 2000

The fact is that, in this revolution, Robespierre was named Liebermann, and Danton was named Mortier. They were carriers of the new dogma, for sure, but also passionate music lovers. At La Monnaie, Mortier helped the careers of Chéreau, Bondy and the Herrmanns, and he commissioned operas to Philippe Boesmans but – at the same time – he put up a Semiramide with Montserrat Caballé. There was, in the depths of his heart, something indescribable which bound him to the loggionisti. And when, later on, name-calling started to flare between the guardians of the temple and those who intended to repaint it with the gleams of modernity, the same love of opera fundamentally tied them together.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Garsington 2013

Suddenly the public authorities, anxious to modernize a genre considered cheesy and of which they clearly knew nothing, started to name big agitators as heads of the theaters. Communicators or laureates, to whom a Trovatore would give hives, but who understood the science of transformation and who preferred let-know over know-how.
When – a few years ago – the famous director of a Parisian institution entered an epic struggle with our editorial staff (the editorial staff of Forumopera, of course), he called us – and our readers with us – “specialists of the specialty”. But if it was his prerogative to oppose us on the ground of ideas, we were surprised to discover that our attachment to opera might constitute an insult to his eyes. Would they address the same sentence to a specialist in Cy Twombly or Michelangelo Antonioni? Lovers of the opera heritage have clearlybecome obsolete. An adulterated caste which opera directors handle with blatant disgust. The object of their passion is an extinct genre that survives only because it is modernized with the help of Kalashnikovs and alluring nudity. This, of course, would not be a problem in itself, but it represents the symptom of a sick approach to opera.

Idomeneo, London 2014

So, for the past twenty years, opera directors have been flourishing here and there with the conviction that their trellises on stage, their handguns and their transpositions of the Marriage of Figaro in a military base in Kandahar bring something new to an art that does not need any help in order to radiate modernity. Because Mozart, Janáček, Debussy, Verdi and so many others do not need swagger masterclasses from anyone. Their works survived wars, the atomic bomb, the worst epidemics and the Internet 2.0 without ever losing any of their brilliance. What faded, however, is the Regietheater. A movement of saviors, packed with new ideas, this revolution will have experienced a difficult future, like all revolutions. It now seems to have exploited a thousand times up to the very last of its ideas, to the most extreme of its concepts. The new blood is congealed, the clots have clogged the arteries, the tissues become necrotic and nothing remains but the putrefaction of this new impetus. May this generation retire, rest on the laurels for its contributions and on the shame for its easy effects, and finally give way to a new era of splendour.

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