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  • Interviews with Contemporary Opera Directors, Selected from Barbara Beyer's Warum Oper? Gespräche mit Opernregisseuren (2005)
  • Barbara Beyer and Paul Chaikin
    Translated by Gundula Kreuzer

Barbara Beyer

Over the past few centuries, fifty or sixty operas have been continually subjected to new interpretations. It is the scores that guarantee their durability—a durability that points to these operas' real source of capital: their timelessness bestows upon them both mystery and strength. Something otherworldly gives these scores their distinctive character, compelling us to process their history and come to terms with the traces of the theatrical tradition they preserve. In metaphorical terms, opera resonates rather well with the language of archeology—discovery, digging, and excavation.

But are the stories we find in these libretti, for example, still suitable to be brought into a productive and critical relationship with the present-day?

Fixed ideas—the expectations of the audience but also of the producers themselves—make it difficult to subvert conventional concepts of opera, its idealization and ideologization. What could liberate this situation? What might explode these hardly palpable and apparently stalwart conventions—short of, of course, blowing up the opera houses themselves, as Pierre Boulez sarcastically demanded in a 1968 interview in Der Spiegel? This fantasy and the considerable stir it caused recall the political explosiveness of music theater in that era. But what has remained of opera's social relevance? Would this sort of provocation prompt comparable reactions today?

In the interviews collected here, a consensus prevails concerning the notion that directors should demonstrate anew, and with unyielding commitment, the effectiveness of music theater.

At least since 1968, the outdated aesthetics of opera as a condemned "bourgeois cultural practice," with its cardboard scenery and garish theatrical conventions, have been dismissed. During the same time period, the so-called Regietheater, or director's theater, was launched—a movement committed to reclaiming the standard repertoire for the present day. Yet for over thirty years now, this contemporaneous sensibility has often (and by preference) been limited to a rather superficial updating. Up-to-dateness has been merely suggested with a [End Page 307] familiar packaging, which is why all those problems commonly associated with traditional conceptions of operatic performance practice have been preserved.

The many different perspectives collected in this book are all focused on finding strategies for an innovative, topical deciphering of opera beyond the well-worn question of reception. In a music-dramatic context it is difficult to deconstruct pieces, to assemble them in new and different ways, or to strip them down—practices that are possible and standard in spoken theater. The complexity of musical form seems to be an inescapable facet of the genre. All the same, some of the directors included here resolutely propose deconstruction as a possible alternative: by dissecting individual works into fragments and excerpts, they want to make them new and newly legible—not least in order to resist the sacrosanct claim of hermetic systems to absoluteness.

Albrecht Puhlmann

I remember when I was just beginning to be interested in opera, when I first asked questions that are still relevant today. It was around the time that Hans Curjel's book Experiment Krolloper: 1927-1931 was published in 1975. That book became a point of reference for what could be expected of opera. In the early 1920s, progressive artistic circles were publicizing the provocative slogan: "Opera is dead!" They were referring to the Staatsoper [Berlin], which was taken over after the Wilhelmine era as a hodgepodge of pathos-laden gestures and the jog-trot of worn repertoire productions. Ernst Bloch outlined the artistic mission of the Kroll Opera by proposing a dictum, one that has since become the motto of every ambitious directorial work in opera: "We set things ablaze with the utmost precision." That was their artistic credo, the idea behind the Kroll. [. . .] Thirty years ago, Hans-Josef Herbort, the critic for Die Zeit, wrote, "The signposts are the same: today, nearly 50 years after the founding of the Kroll Opera, we need a new initiative against that shallow culinary narcotic called opera. But as with 50 years ago, fiscal policy makers continue to be obstinate toward art, while those responsible for the...


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pp. 307-317
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