Saturday, 16 April 2011

German Operatic Regietheater?

A few years ago, an American opera singer/stage director put together this humourous list of points to observe when directing opera in the contemporary Germanic style. His identity has remained a mystery to this day, but anyone who's worked in that field either in Germany or abroad - for 'German' Regietheater is international - will recognise quite a few of the points. Enjoy.

1) The director is the most important personality involved in the production. His vision must supersede the requirements of the composer and librettist, the needs of singers, and especially the desire of the audience, those overfed fools who want to be entertained and moved.
2) The second most important personality is the set designer.
3) Comedy is verboten except when unintentional. Wit is for TV-watching idiots.
4) Great acting is hyperintensity with much rolling about on the ground, groping of walls, and sitting on a bare floor.
5) The audience's attention must be directed to anything except the person who is singing. A solo aria, outmoded even in the last century, must be accompanied by extraneous characters expressing their angst in trivial ways near, on, or about the person singing the aria.
6) Storytelling is always anathema to the modern director just as realistic, "photographic" painting is to the abstract painter. Don't tell the story. COMMENT on it! Even better, UNDERMINE it!
7) When singing high notes, the singer must be crumpled over, lying down, or facing the back of the stage.
8) The music must stop once in a while for intense, obscure miming.
9) Sexual scenes must be charmless and aggressive. Rolling on the floor a must here.
10) Unmotivated homosexual behavior must be introduced into the staging of the opera at least a few times no matter that it has no relevance to the opera.
11) Happy endings are intellectually bankrupt. Play the opposite. Insert a sudden murder or rape somewhere if at all possible no matter that it has no place in the opera.
12) Avoid entertaining the audience at all costs. If they boo, your vision has succeeded artistically.
13) Rehearse the performance until it's dead. Very important.
14) Any suggestion of the beauty and mystery of nature must be avoided at all costs! The set must be trivial, contemporary and decrepit. Don't forget the fluorescent lights! (Klieg lights also acceptable.)
15) The audience must not know when to applaud or when the scene/act ends.
16) Historical atrocities such as the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic must be incorporated and exploited as much as possible. Also, the lifestyle of the audience must be mocked.
17) Colors are merely decorative. Black, white and gray only! If you must have color, let it be garish eye-watering primaries in huge blocks, Toytown style. And with vast coarse flowery prints for the costumes — and something bolder for the women. (Under the trench coats, of course. See article 18.)
18) The chorus must be bald, sexless, faceless and in trench coats. The ideal is a line-up of devitalized Uncle Festers. For a court audience or other aristos (axiomatically boorish sneering decadents, especially if the music implies otherwise) tail-coats are permissible, as are crowns, provided they are jagged card circlets.
19) If the audience is bored it's proof positive that this is art.
20) Props are items of junk piled in a corner of the set. They must be overused pointlessly, then dropped on the floor, loudly. Best done when the music is soft so as to call attention to it. Be careful to keep dangerous objects at the lip of the stage so the blindfolded dancers can kick them into the pit.
21) All asides must be sung next to the person who is not supposed to hear them.
22) The leading performers faces must be painted as a white mask to ensure no individuality or variety of expressions as opera singers can't act anyway. This is already a fundamental Brechtian technique to conceal a) the limited range endemic to actors being ideologically sound, and b) the stereotypical nature of agitprop material. Less obvious if delivered by a stereotype where it can then be called stylization, and hailed as genius.
23) Preparation is important for the director. Try to read the libretto in advance to make sure it doesn't interfere with your staging ideas. Not much harm in listening to the CD once, though that's not really your job.
24) Make the conductor feel useful though he's really nothing but a literal-minded hack.
25) The stage director must avoid any idea that is not his own. (This instruction is largely pointless as that idea is surely implied in this list already.)
26) A costume must serve at least two of the following criteria: a) make the singer look unattractive, b) obscure his vision, c) make hearing the orchestra difficult, d) impede movement, or e) contradict the period in which the opera is set (that last hardly worth mentioning).
27) Every once in a while, try to compensate for generating trash at the taxpayer's expense by producing an "opera for children." Nothing difficult here. Just have The Magic Flute performed around midafternoon by mediocre singers in an inappropriate setting, in a translocated staging, and by altering the story which you’ve determined is anything but suitable for children.
28) Hire your singers in the largest size possible, making every love scene look like a parody. Act surprised when no-one likes it, and afterwards declare in front of the press that contemporary audiences just don't connect with opera anymore, and that, further, more modernizing productions are needed.

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