When Opera Directors Need To Step Back And Reevaluate Their Work

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 19 December 2014 | 12:55:00 am

Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
An interesting discussion from Jessica Duchen which asks "Should an opera production be changed if audiences dislike it?" Sparked by the clear revision of Christof Loy’s production of Tristan und Isolde at the ROH this season and going on to discuss the Glyndebourne/Richard Jones’s new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Mariinsky’s staging of the Ring and Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
 
When the director Christof Loy’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde first opened at the Royal Opera House in 2009, some of the audience were in for a shock.

The set was dominated by a long, high, diagonal wall; and people seated on the left-hand edge of the auditorium found their sight lines virtually non-existent. Loud booing resulted on opening night; anybody would be angry after paying Wagnerian prices – in every sense – for an opera they could scarcely see.

Beyond the wall, though, the production was psychologically fascinating; and now it is back to Covent Garden starring, as Isolde, Nina Stemme, widely regarded as today’s greatest Wagnerian soprano. And the angle of that wall has been shunted by a few degrees; the theatre is offering a reduced price on seats where the view is still restricted.

Unlike mainstream theatre, opera is not blessed with a run of previews in which the creative team can fine-tune the staging and catch any likely bloopers. If something goes wrong, it tends to do so under the spotlight of acerbic critics and full-price audiences. Mistakes happen – this was a biggie – but how much can and should a production be changed if it goes over badly with its audience?

Most directors would naturally regard the idea as anathema. A good director has, in certain ways, to function as a benign dictator to realise a consistent concept; and anybody would need the hide of a large reptile to shrug off negative reactions. Mucking around with a show to try to please everyone risks pleasing nobody; besides, controversy is often a driving force in opera. If something strong is being said, somebody, somewhere, is bound to dislike it.

And in the best cases that is exactly why the director should stick to his or her guns. The 1976 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth by Patrice Chéreau, set during the Industrial Revolution, was greeted with considerable revulsion at first, yet in due course it became a true classic.





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