Komische Oper’s ‘Fidelio’ too much for Carl St.Clair

On a cold Wednesday in Berlin this week, Carl St.Clair […] sat in the Potsdamer Platz wearing an overcoat and talking on his cell phone to a reporter back home in Orange County. He was getting his fix of Mexican food.

The topic of conversation was the surprise announcement, made May 10, that he would be leaving the Komische Oper, where he has served as general music director for three years, at the end of this season, two years before his contract was up. A press release cited “artistic differences” between St.Clair and the company’s intendant, Andreas Homoki, as the reason for the conductor’s departure.

The nature of those differences involves […] Regietheater, or “director’s opera,” St.Clair explained, a specialty of the Komische Oper. Regietheater gives a stage director complete control over how an opera is produced, and these days, in Germany especially, the result can be provocative, silly or scandalous, sometimes all three at once. The straw that broke St.Clair’s back is the company’s latest production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” which he is conducting.

“In this particular production I experienced what I would consider the darkest side of Regietheater,” St.Clair said, “where the back of Beethoven was used for a concept. … This concept used and abused Beethoven’s greatness in a way that was very disturbing to me.”

This is the opening of an article in the Orange County Register of 13th May. The production in question was Ron’s final musical event in his Berlin marathon (six operas, one concert), so it’ll be interesting to hear his take on this story.

Obviously, it’s premature to interpret Carl St.Clair’s decision as signaling the beginning of the end for baby-in-a-fridge opera productions, but it’s interesting all the same that this story comes hot on the heels (actually, also on 13th May) of a report in the LA Times of open criticism of LA Opera’s new staging of Wagner’s Ring by two of the singers involved. The LA Times article begins like this (follow the link for the whole thing):

In a rare public airing of artistic differences, the two leading singers in the Los Angeles Opera’s costly and ambitious staging of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle have harshly criticized the director, saying the production is artistically flawed and physically dangerous for performers.

Getting back to Fidelio, I was interested to read in the Orange County Register article that, not content with re-interpreting the staging of the opera, the director also actually dispensed with Beethoven’s overture! Whatever about determining what happens on stage, it does seem to me that interfering with the musical content is more than any director should have a right to do (sorry, despite all my best intentions to maintain a neutral tone, I just couldn’t help myself on this point).

A Concert to watch out for

Daniel Barenboim in action

By pure chance while we were in Berlin, I caught the tail-end of the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2010 Europa Concert, which came from the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. All I got to see was the final ten minutes or so of the concluding item in the concert, which was Brahms’s First Symphony. The performance was exceptional, an experience to treasure for anyone lucky enough to have been there, and these ten minutes were enough to convince me to watch out for the DVD and to buy it when it becomes available. I would urge everyone else to do the same, or at the very least to check TV schedules for the eventual broadcast on BBC.

In the mean time may I refer you to a glowing review by Tom Service in The Guardian. The review refers to one highly unusual aspect of the occasion, which was that the physical dimensions and layout of the venue required the orchestra to be positioned on the floor of the hall rather than on a platform. The effect must have been astonishing for the audience.