The age-old Opera-staging debate

Sitting in the Garter Inn, Falstaff taps at his typewriter and puffs on his fag under the gaze of a portrait of the king – George VI rather than Henry IV – and we know at once where we are: Not in 15th-Century Windsor – that is to say, where Verdi, like Shakespeare, set his work – but in a 21st-Century opera house, where the first rule is that a production should ignore the work as written.

That’s the opening of a piece in The Guardian by Geoffrey Wheatcroft which has generated quite a few comments from readers and also a rebuttal piece by Charlotte Higgins in the same edition of the paper. Ms Higgins, whose piece also spawned a high level of comments, has this to say, in part:

Wheatcroft quotes Clive James’s apercu that “directing opera is what Germans do nowadays instead of invading Poland” – implying that such directorial interventions in opera are inherently violent and destructive. Far from it, I would argue.

Within our own group, I think we’d all agree that Ron and Bernard neatly represent the opposing camps in this debate. For myself, I’m somewhere in the middle: once a production is convincing and involving, I’m happy, whether the staging be traditional or boundary-stretching, so (in my opinion) Turandot in Dresden was excellent; Faust in Munich was idiotic.

What about you guys? Any strong opinions one way or the other apart from Ron and Bernard?

2 thoughts on “The age-old Opera-staging debate”

  1. I agree with Jim that once an opera production ‘works’ I can deal with any ‘licence’ taken. But I cant take director ‘ego trips’ or off-the-wall interpretations. The Jonathon Miller ‘Rigoletto’ is one of the best modern interpretations I’ve seen recently (also loved Ron’s Damnation of Faust) but the worst I’ve seen to date is the Lyon ‘Les Contes d’Hoffman’. Also, I can settle for a singer(s) not particularly ‘looking the part’ so long as they can sing it well and realise the music drama as envisaged by the composer – (obviously if they look the part, so much the better). However, simply ‘looking’ but being vocally inadequate tires me easily. But as regards modern productions – bring them on so long as they work ! So far, McVicar currently can do no wrong!

  2. The main opera houses decided long ago not to argue any more as to how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. They all mix old hat with outrage and keep the pot boiling. It’s a business after all. Many eminent critics have retired to a remote spot in the Swiss alps where they endlessly churn over these unsolvable arguements. Due to global warming or something the supply of apples which they need to reinvigourate themselves is failing and they are depressed and sad. It is only a matter of time before Dr Mann will call ” time up” and burn the place down.

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