Friday, August 12, 2016

My Top Ten Eurotrash Productions

You will be pleased to know that my top ten Eurotrash productions all come from Europe.  This is only suitable.  Each of our examples will have a named production designer, also something that happens more often in Europe.  Eurotrash is a derogatory term, so these are the worst examples of the broader category called Regietheater.

I suppose a definition is in order.  Regietheater or director theater is characterized by staged actions that do not represent the planned actions of the original work.  Sometimes there is no relationship at all between the words and the actions.


In general it will be a countdown, but I find that I must begin with the most famous of all regie productions, Katharina Wagner's production of her great-grandfather's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for Bayreuth.  It dates from early in my blogging career, but I watched it only four years agoMeistersinger is about a Meistersinger guild in Nürnberg in the time of the Renaissance.  The hero, Hans Sachs, was the famous master, and the others strove to come up to his standard.

Katharina Wagner has moved the opera to modern times with our over-inflated celebrity status.  Do I understand Meistersinger better now?  Absolutely not.  Do I understand why the street scene is replaced by green representations of composers?  No.  What do the composers have to do with the plot?  The Meistersingers are from the middle class while the winner of the song contest, Walther Stolzing, is a prince who just wants the girl and does not see the reason he needs the singers' guild.  In the original version of the opera Hans Sachs talks him into it, but here Walther does not become a Meistersinger and instead runs off to become a rock star, taking Eva with him.   This production holds a position in this list because it is so famous.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  Pretty much.

Do you understand the plot any better?  Without reading from the designer's notes, the green composers seem meaningless.  Since one of them is clearly Verdi, they can't represent die heilige deutsche Kunst (holy German art).  The Meistersingers all appear to be artists instead of singers.


Next in my list is Cecilia Bartoli's Giulio Cesare by Handel, designed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser for Salzburg.  The opera concerns itself with historical figures from the first century BC.  Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar were competing consuls of the Roman Republic, and generally appear in Roman army dress.  It is important to realize that in Handel's time opera characters appeared in clothing of their own, that is Handel's, period.

Ptolomy, the Egyptian ruler, and Caesar are battling over oil rights.  This would work better if there were oil in Egypt.  Maybe it's supposed to be a different country.  Never mind.  In the contemporary world Handel's Giulio Cesare seems to be felt to be a comedy.  There must be bawdiness, arias sung with bags over heads, fires in oil drums, the star riding a rocket, etc.  The cast is spectacularly wonderful, but the production explains nothing.  Only Sesto and Cornelia add any seriousness to the story.  This DVD was nominated for a Grammy.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  You would have to look around for the stripper feathers, but the rest is normal clothing.

Do you understand the plot any better?  Dead people rise at the end.  This version is pretty confusing.  Does it matter?  The music is glorious, and one generally has a good time.


You might be interested to know that half of the items in this list come from the Salzburg Festival.  This includes Philipp Stölzl's production of Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini.  The title character was a prominent artist from Renaissance Florence, a real person.  So we might expect Renaissance clothing.  Here we have helicopters, household robots and a pope in mufti who hands out wafers to anyone who asks.  My favorite bit is the aria sung by the head of a robot lying on the floor.  One might be horrified by a production that trashes Meistersinger, but how can one get upset by a goofy production of Benvenuto Cellini?  Especially since one has never seen a non-goofy production of it.

The plot, taken from Cellini's autobiography, concerns the fact that Cellini has killed someone and will only be forgiven if he completes a statue for the Pope.  The only thing I didn't like in this production was the failure to show an actual statue at the end.  That is after all what the opera is about.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  You would have to make the robot costumes.  There are a lot of costumes in the carnival celebration.

Do you understand the plot any better?  Omission of the statue seems confusing, especially since it isn't replaced with anything.


I am extremely fond of Sven-Eric Bechtolf's Der Rosenkavalier from the Zurich Opera with Nina Stemme as the Marschalin.  The opera normally takes place in the Austria of Maria Theresa in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Here we are in modern times, the universal time period of regie.  Nina plays a very sensitive Marschalin who faints in any crisis.  Where do people get these ideas?

The thing that makes this bad regie is that the presentation of the rose takes place in Herr von Faninal's kitchen.  What?  I can simply not buy this.  Is his house under construction?  Is he an idiot?  However, it features the only available film of Vesselina Kasarova's Octavian, a thing of great beauty.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  It would need to be a very high end department store.

Do you understand the plot any better?  I may have made a mistake here.  Just possibly this production is brilliant.


The only time La Bohème has played at the Salzburg Festival it did so in a production by Damiano Michieletto which features Mimi and Rodolfo living under a freeway.  There are tiny buildings that look like doll's houses.  We need to imagine Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala as street people.  In the picture they look a little over-dressed for people who live under a freeway.  The main feature of street persons' attire is that it does not form into an ensemble.  Pants don't match jackets, etc.  Mozart's revenge on Puccini?

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  Definitely.  But a thrift store would work better.

Do you understand the plot any better?  It works but I'm not sure why.


At this point we have two versions of Il Trovatore.  It's just a question of which is trashier.  I choose as the less offensive Anna Netrebko and Placido Domingo's version from Salzburg staged by Alvis Hermanis.  In the Salzburg version Anna Netrebko is a museum guide who has fallen in love with a painting of the troubadour.  This version of the story may make slightly more sense.  Netrebko is still standing on the furniture.

Our heroine appears sometimes in her tour guide outfit, a blue suit with a name tag that says "A Netrebko", and sometimes in period costumes so her paintings can come to life.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  They go back and forth between modern and period costumes.  Maybe the period costumes could come from the bath department.

Do you understand the plot any better?  Two pictures in a gallery rarely relate to each other, so pulling random pictures into a story does not create cohesion.  They look pretty good.  We will presume that this is A. Netrebko's fantasy.


Guaranteed to make no sense at all is the Il Trovatore from the Bayerische Staatsoper staged by Olivier Py.   This starred the great Verdi duo Jonas Kaufmann and Anya Harteros.  Leonora is blind, thus explaining why she can't tell Manrico from de Luna.  Azucena's dead mother makes frequent appearances.  In house this character was nude, but in the live stream some clothing was added.

The sets are all very ugly, but the singing was amazing.  Beating on a cylinder replaces the by now firmly traditional anvils.  Since they are still in period costumes, I'm questioning the inclusion of this production.  Editing....  I'm including it because it is so very ugly, even nightmarish. 

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  I guess not.

Do you understand the plot any better?  I was actually very much drawn into understanding the story here, perhaps much more strongly than ever before. I actually think it's supposed to be a nightmare.


You could probably stare at the above picture for a long time before guessing that it is Beethoven's Fidelio staged by Claus Guth.  Leonora has found her husband Florestan only to discover that he has severe PTSD and is afraid of her.  In the above picture she hopes that a stiff drink will help.

There are a lot of trashy elements in this production such as the presence of sounds of people breathing instead of the usual German dialog.  Only the musical parts of the opera are retained.  The production adds an atmosphere of intense seriousness in an opera that is generally sometimes serious, sometimes comic.  One of the characters is a buffo bass.  I appreciated very much the seriousness, but did not like the lack of a happy ending.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  Definitely.

Do you understand the plot any better?  You do not understand the original plot exactly, but this new one is quite well explained.  Continuity between numbers is lacking.


Puccini's Manon Lescaut from the Bayerische Staatsoper was staged by Hans Neuenfels, possibly the most notorious of all the German opera producers.   He doesn't know what to do with a chorus, so he dresses them all in some absurd outfit.  Here's what they looked like in This opera.

He only wants the opera to be about Manon and Des Grieux and pretty much ignores everyone else, unless he's making them look ridiculous.  He made the chorus look like rats in Lohengrin, I think it was.  It doesn't go absolutely off the rails because he's right.  With Kaufmann and Opolais in the main roles they take the absence of color, or really any visual stimulation and turn it into romance of overwhelming intensity.

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  For the main characters yes.  For everyone else no.

Do you understand the plot any better?  You do indeed understand better the power of love, but everything about Manon away from Des Grieux is a blur.

 Bryn, Dominique, Sophie, Jonas

This staging of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust from the Paris Opera is more a comedy than a serious drama. The producer here is Alvis Hermanis, the same guy that did the art museum Il Trovatore.  There is simply no relationship between the opera plot and the staging.  It wasn't originally intended to be staged.  Trying to figure out what they're doing can be fun. 

Could you buy the costumes in a department store?  Definitely yes.  Except for the space suits.

Do you understand the plot any better?  Uh.  No.  This one is sort of the definition of Eurotrash.

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