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).

6 thoughts on “Komische Oper’s ‘Fidelio’ too much for Carl St.Clair”

  1. St Clair had earlier announced his intention to retire in 2012 when the new Intendant Barrie Kosky takes over at the Komische Oper. The present Intendant Homoki is moving to Zurich and it appears as if this new Fidelio slipped in without interest from either Kosky or Homoki. St Clair never impressed, but he followed the brilliant Kirill Petrenko who started in Berlin at age 29 in 2002 and is now conducting in the leading houses and halls worldwide.. The new conductor will be the 29 year old Patrick Lange. He opens with a new production of Meistersinger, a tall order for the Komische.

  2. Oooooh … Meistersinger! Time to go back to Berlin, maybe? Still, it depends on who’s controlling the staging. I definitely wouldn’t fancy anything like Katharina Wagner’s recent Bayreuth production.

  3. At the risk of flogging this horse to death if it isn’t already a dead one, can I refer you all to a (very) long article by a certain Heather McDonald in City Journal magazine (going back to 2007, I reckon). The title is The Abduction of Opera, and it’s worth a read if you have the time. Make yourself a cup of coffee, settle down, follow that link, and see what you think. The title is a fairly strong clue to which side of the argument Heather leans towards, but it’s well written and full of interesting quotes from Regietheater exponents.

  4. Dead horses are best left to graze in that great meadow in the sky. The real problem is that many poor/bad directors shelter under the “Regietheatre” umbrella. The concept goes as far back as Wagner, European cinema, and in particular the post war new French Cinema and not least the Komische Oper since 1947. It is in welcome contrast to the American “star” system and the “Prima Donna” way with opera. It is here to stay. A few months ago St CLair stated that he was staying until 2012 as he was so artistically bound-up with Homoki!!. The dramatic change because of one production raises questions but they are not about the artistic validity of “Regietheatre”

Leave a Reply