- Von der Zukunft einer unmöglichen Kunst: 21 Perspektiven zum Musiktheater, and: Regietheater in der Oper: Eine musiksoziologische Untersuchung am Beispiel der Stuttgarter Inszenierung von Wagners "Ring des Nibelungen"
That opera is in a perpetual state of crisis, especially in the German-speaking countries, is the point of departure of both the books under review here. That this crisis manifests itself both economically and artistically seems to be a necessary rhetorical flourish with which to begin most investigations of this "impossible art" (to cite the title of the essay collection by Knauer and Krause). From a non-German perspective it may come as a surprise to learn that even in the best funded theater system in the world, where total state and municipal subventions for the arts exceed €8 billion, the "coffers are empty." The artistic crisis is, of course, more familiar, and perceptions of operagoers diverge wildly between the advocates of Regietheater [director's theater] and denigrators of "eurotrash," an alternative designation for the same phenomenon. Both books try to establish with differing emphases and levels of scholarship a connection between the socioeconomic place of opera and its aesthetic implications. The overriding question seems to be: how far can "advanced" directorial concepts be pushed without alienating the public that supports the art form of opera itself—even in the generously supported German system?
The volume edited by Bettina Knauer and Peter Krause is the by-product of a symposium organized by the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater in 2003 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the degree program in opera directing [Musiktheater-Regie] offered there. The course, founded in 1973 by Götz Friedrich, has produced a large number of important figures in German opera, such as Kirsten Harms, the current artistic director of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and Stefan Herheim, whose recent productions at Salzburg and Bayreuth have made him one of the hottest properties in international opera production. [End Page 312] The contributors include such leading figures in the German music and theater landscape as Peter Ruzicka, Albrecht Puhlmann, Nike Wagner, and Harms. The book is divided into five somewhat arbitrarily designated sections: "education paths," "aesthetics," "director's theater," "cultural economics," and "reception." Together the contributions provide an impressive discursive coverage of contemporary Musiktheater, the term preferred to "opera" in this volume.
Like any collection of essays, this one is pluralistic in terms of quality and approach. The contributions range from a major and substantive essay by Ruzicka on what he terms "second modernity" to more impressionistic musings by director Peter Konwitschny. The approach taken by the Hamburg program itself also features intermittently as a subject of some of the essays.
The book opens with an interview with Harms, who states in her first sentence that she considers the degree in Hamburg to be "optimal" in terms of both theory and practice. The interview sets the tone for the artistic values represented by most of the book's contributors. Harms is of course an ardent supporter of public support for the theater, which, she argues, provides a kind of counterpublic sphere [Gegenöffentlichkeit] to the mass media, possible only through the financial independence guaranteed by high-level state funding (17). She also notes the decline of the educated middle classes [Bildungsbürgertum], the backbone of the operatic audience, although in a more objective and less maudlin tone than some other commentators. One gains the impression that Harms sees the challenges posed by these shifts in a very pragmatic light.
An important theme in the book is the extension of the term "opera" to include Musiktheater. Not only are there contributions dealing explicitly with contemporary works by composers such as Adriana Hölsky (see the articles by Nike Wagner and Peter Petersen), but it also becomes clear that the training of directors at the Hamburg school explicitly engages with postoperatic music...