Here is an article by Heather MacDonald raging against Regietheater, the new wave of German opera productions.
The article is a riff on a single production of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin but generalizes the idea out to all European opera. I've been to a few European operas in the last few years and haven't seen anything even remotely that bad. The fashion show instead of a production for Manon Lescaut in Vienna was just silly. The singers went on with the opera even though they were irrelevant to the action.
Giant headed natives in L'Anima del Filisofo in Zurich was the worst, I guess.
The term Regietheater is German because the phenomenon is primarily German. In the mid seventies when I worked in Germany this style of opera production was already well under way. When Pamela Rosenberg brought it with her from Stuttgart, all hell broke loose.
Mortier from Paris has been hired to take over the New York City Opera, and it is reasonable to expect some outrageous productions, but he is also proposing to present a lot of twentieth century opera, a medium that may reasonably expect to include modern productions without doing any damage to the works themselves. Would we stay awake longer for an outrageous production of Einstein on the Beach? Will we love Nixon after an outrageous production of Nixon in China? Will we boycott Saint Francis if it is insufficiently pious?
The problem with avant garde is that eventually there is no more barrier to overturn. Like the art show on sexuality that must fall back on films from sex clinics to achieve the ultimate outrage, the limit is eventually reached and people get bored. On the other hand, people don't really get bored with sex, do they?
The Europeans coming to American may need to be reminded that we're a lot more prudish here. We still beep Gordon Ramsey, whose every third word starts with "f", when his show runs on American television.