Saturday, August 27, 2016

Top 10 Regie Productions

I put back the term Eurotrash in my top ten post.  In my mind Regie Theater and Eurotrash are not synonyms.  All Eurotrash is Regie but not all Regie is Eurotrash.  Some of it is actually good.  The word regie just means direction or staging.  The director is the regisseur.

Regie Theater is a more definable term than Eurotrash.  It refers to productions, primarily from Europe but not always, which move the time to something like the present day.  Other traits are imposing a story on the opera which is different from the actual story of the opera; adding sexual activity; assigning symbolic meanings to objects and actions.  Eurotrash is in the eye of the beholder.

It is an argument to have whether or not it is possible to have a modern opera with a Regietheater production.  You can't move it to the present because it already is there.  If you add a lot of fake sex, that might qualify.

As a result of this argument, I have added a new label--Regie--and added it to the Filters section.  It's best if labels are kept short.  This label has been applied to over 100 reviewed productions on this blog.  If you are interested in this subject at all, select the label to see what I think is Regie theater.

In attempting to distinguish between regie and Eurotrash my argument was that the top 10 regie productions would be a completely different list, so here it is.  These are my personal favorites in the extreme production area based entirely on how much I enjoyed them. You will have to choose your own.  I notice, now that I have selected, that this list is quite varied and comes from all parts of the operatic world. 

Number 10 is Monteverdi's L'Orfeo from London by the Early Opera Company.  

Though extremely abstract, I felt that the plot in this production by Michael Boyd and Tom Piper was expressed very effectively.  Its cause was augmented by the great beauty of the musical performance.

What makes it regie?  The use of ordinary modern clothing is the primary basis for the regie classification.  There is no attempt to suggest a period.  The plot is only slightly modified.

The story of Orfeo is the story of the power of music.  Nothing stands in the way of this powerful musical performance.





Number 9 is a surprise--Salome from the Deutsche Oper Berlin .  

I realize that it is precisely this type of alteration of the meaning of the opera that most annoys people about regie, but I found that the theme interested me.

What makes it regie?  This is a full on, top drawer example of the best of the regie movement by one of its masters, Claus Guth.  The opera is translated into a tale of a modern concern, child abuse.  Of course there is modern clothing.  For me it is marred by the presence of events with no explanation, such as Jochanaan rising from a pile of clothes on the floor.  The abused child has her revenge.

This opera is from a play by Oscar Wilde which gives an intensely sexual component to Salome's interest in Jochanaan.  The play is about the child's interest in the prophet.  In the original Biblical story it is clear that Salome's mother puts her up to it.  Guth turns this into an implication of sexual knowledge not normally present in one so young, sexual knowledge that comes from sexual activity from her step-father.  Herod wants her to dance to satisfy his own sexual desires. She turns the situation back on Herod.  I include this production here because it turns the opera into something much more than a striptease accompanied by loud singing.




Number 8 is the Salzburg Don Giovanni.


What makes it regie?  This production by Sven-Eric Bechtolf represents not a concept but a solution to the issue of how to stage a drama that is simply impossible.  We need a wedding, a grave yard, hell, an endless list of different settings.  In this production they become the lobby of a hotel, and absolutely nothing is missing.  The characters become modern travelers who meet by accident.  You or I might show up at this hotel.

Don Giovanni needs a single set, but the beauty of this modern production is that all perspectives can be integrated into a single place.  Zerlina can get married, Giovanni can throw a party, etc., without the presence of boxes.



Number 7 is Rossini's Otello from Zurich.

What makes it regie?  The use of ordinary modern clothing is the primary basis for the regie classification.  Twentieth century beer bottles, refrigerators, pool tables, and record players also add to the atmosphere.  We know from the surroundings that the differences between Otello and Desdemona are about much more than race.  This production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser turns heroes into ordinary people.  The suffering is intensified.  



As number 6 I liked very much the Neon Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera.


What makes it regie?  This production by Michael Mayer references a very specific time and place.  The characters of the opera are intended to represent actual people from the sixties in Las Vegas. Neon is everywhere in Las Vegas.  Gilda dies in the trunk of a car.

This production turns a very serious opera into something fun.  I often think Rigoletto is a much better opera than it seems to be, that we could strive for a production that emphasizes the tragedy of the lead character.




Number 5 is Elektra from the Deutsche Oper Berlin.


What makes it regie?  The use of ordinary modern clothing is the primary basis for the regie classification.  The producer, Kirsten Harms, is the Intendant.  Elektra wallows in a pit of black sand which emphasizes her madness.  The window above the pit easily handles the off stage portions of the plot.  The action moves smoothly while showing clearly the atmosphere of evil.

I appreciate when a difficult theatrical work is successfully solved.  The scenes move smoothly one to the other.  Your attention is not distracted by problems in staging. 



Number 4 must be the most entertaining Manon from the LA Opera with Netrebko and Villazon, production by Vincent Paterson


What makes it regie?  In each scene Netrebko is dressed as a different classic movie actress.  She is queen of the movies and not a fallen woman at all.  Manon herself has almost no identity.  Almost as much can be said of chevalier des Grieux. In the end she is Ingred Bergman.

The opera is different.  This opera is hard to translate into modern times, because it would be difficult to arrange for your own mistress to be imprisoned.  In these times of ubiquitous media surely he would have far more to lose.  For this production one should let go of intellectual considerations and just enjoy.



A blessed farce as number 3 was Handel's Partenope from San Francisco, brilliantly staged by Christopher Alden.  


Here we have the poker scene.  What makes it regie?  The use of ordinary modern clothing is the primary basis for the regie classification, along with the addition of almost constant jokes.  The staging only gives a rough approximation of the actual plot.  Who will get Partenope?   There are cards, bourbon, cigarettes, gas masks, tap dancing, toilet paper, bare chested man not baritone and a gorgeous homage to art deco.  There is none of the tedious waiting for something to happen that accompanies almost every performance of a Baroque opera.



I am putting it in as number 2, but this La Traviata from Salzburg, production by Willy Decker, only works with Netrebko.


What makes it regie?  The use of ordinary modern clothing is the primary basis for the regie classification.  The stage is bare, and no attempt is made to make any of the scenes look like a realistically decorated room.  A giant clock stands to one side counting down the time she has left.  The women in the chorus are all dressed as men, making Violetta the consuming attraction.  I find that it can't survive on pictures alone but requires a sparkling actress.




Number 1 in this list is the magnificent Norma from Salzburg, production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser.  


It was like seeing a different opera.  What makes it regie?  The regie concepts permeate every aspect of the drama, not just the sets and clothing. Norma is the leader of a subversive military group, one accustomed to violence.  Polione is the enemy, the one they are attempting to overthrow, so Norma's fraternization with one of them is the ultimate betrayal.  The other Norma is breaking her priestess vows with someone unlikely to betray her.  This new Norma raises the stakes, and she knows it.  Ultimately she cannot forgive herself.

I found this a striking and profound experience.  It was presented with the first performance of the new critical edition with all the cuts restored.  These cuts also subtracted from the drama.  Nothing restored felt extraneous.  We became accustomed in the middle of the twentieth century to all operas being presented with large, romantic orchestras with all the drama coming from the music.  A more intense theatrical experience is a good thing.


I am not opposed to this new movement, I just insist that it be presented in service to theater and not as a substitute for it.

Posts about regie are here, here, here, here, and  here.  I'm going to assume that this subject is now covered.

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