Gesamtkunstwerk? Nein, danke!


AIDA in Salzburg in Shirin Neshat’s production.

My friend, James Slouffman, Wagnerian of all Wagnerians sent me this link. After reading it, I had to vent.

My problem with this supposed return of the Gesamtkunstwerk is essentially that it dehumanizes and often obliterates what should be the center and focus of the operatic experience: the singing actor.

If one looks through the years that the Bayreuth Festival has been the Keeper of the Wagnerian Flame, it is difficult to center one’s focus on the singers, because of the supremacy of the Regie over the singing actor. Again and again we hear about the Wieland Wagner Ring or the Wolfgang Wagner Ring or the Jean Pierre Ponelle Ring or the Patrice Chereau Ring or the Otto Schenk Ring or (God forbid!) the Robert Lepage Ring (at the MET) …und so weiter, in which  second-tier singers unprepared to meet the rigors of Wagner come and go

But, if we want to look for great Wagnerian singing actors, we will find most of them in the annals of the MET, Covent Garden, Hamburg and Berlin and Dresden Operas, well before William Kentridge and Robert Wilson and now Shirin Neshat moved themselves into the Opera House and displaced the singing actor and cleared the room in the Opera Party, leaving the singer buried in phony symbolic gesturing and scenic overkill.

Birgit Nilsson, George London, Hans Hotter, Siegfried Jerusalem, Jess Thomas and many other greats thoroughly convinced me that they were the characters they portrayed with their singing and their acting. But, frankly, if you asked me who the director was for any one of the productions in which they starred I’d be hard put to tell you.

Beyond Wagner. About fifty years or so ago I saw a memorable WOZZECK that still gives me goosebumps: Geraint Evans and Marilyn Horne in a San Francisco Opera production. If someone out there can name the director please do. Gobbi’s and Callas’ Tosca…who directed it? Norman Treigle’s Mefistofele…Beverly Sills’ “Donizetti Queens…” ?

I do not advocate a return to the days of Park and Bark. Directors who can work with the actors are invaluable commodities these days and those who can are mostly young and inventive team players.

Let’s have more of those.

Rafael de Acha            All About the Arts

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