SALZBURG, Austria (AP) — The opera world is split in two: European regietheater productions reinvent works in ways composers never imagined, while traditional stagings favored in the U.S. and parts of Italy are condemned by some cognoscenti as passé.
Tobias Kratzer’s staging of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” revived at this year’s Bayreuth Festival, envisions a clown-clad title character as part of a counterculture clique with a drag queen, dwarf and love goddess in a sequined cocktail dress who runs over a cop with a Citroën van in a Burger King parking lot.
“I’m very well known for my irritating work, and I think I was hired especially for that,” Kušej said. “Who wants to have the 150th version of a well-made `Figaro’ in Salzburg? I want it to be relevant for today’s audience. I saw many, many, many shows and I was always a bit disappointed. There are good shows. There are interesting shows. But my aim is really to make opera living in our times, questioning questions that we have today.”
Some directors engage in a can-you-top-this race of reinterpretation filled with tangential cultural allusions. Several arias were met with muted applause as puzzled viewers digested the stage action.
“You share this vision with your audience and from that moment starts the adventure,” Warlikowski said. “If you are coming with eyes to see just what happens, you will not get anything. But if you come with eyes who want to see and at the same time you are thinking, maybe your thinking is going to connect you to this vision.”
He was pleased by the lack of audience anger.
“In the case of Verdi, it’s not very easy not to be booed,” Warlikowski said.
Kušej looks at the gun-toting Almavivas and their servants as a mob family in a W-like hotel designed by Raimund Orfeo Voigt, in sharp contemporary costumes by Alan Hranitelj. The Count and Figaro snort during the overture, the Countess pops pills while swigging from a wine bottle, Susanna sips a cocktail along with a capsule and Basilio shoots up. Basilio is a priest instead of a music teacher and the gardener Antonio is homeless.
A staggered Figaro and a nodding Susanna begin the evening drunk in a bar, his “Cinque … dieci … venti” referring to shots rather than floor measurements. In Bartolo’s “La vendetta” aria, “tutta Siviglia” becomes “tutta la terra” to make it more universal. The Count. Figaro and Basilio rough up Cherubino during “Non più andrai (No more will you)” — the priest smashes Cherubino’s face into a glass panel.
“Porgi, amor (Grant love)” opens the second act with the Countess staring at Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting “L’Origine du monde” while a naked woman sits in the adjacent bathtub. The Count sings “Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro (I will see, while I sigh)” while a prostitute wearing only panties dresses him, earning a wad of cash. The household assembles, many wearing headphones, to dance in a parking lot seven levels below ground ahead of the Susanna-Figaro rooftop wedding.
Kusej said Met general manager Peter Gelb had thought about co-producing a “Forza del Destino” that appeared in Munich in 2013, but Gelb decided not to go forward after seeing it would contain 9/11 references.
After attending Kušej’s “Nozze” last week, Gelb said: “We’re interested in stage directors who would like to thrill our audiences, not revolt them.”
“If we decide to make an opera of Bellini, of Rossini, of Mozart, of Haydn, of Gluck, of Verdi, we do have a music which was composed by the greatest composer and we have a libretto, which in some cases is very good,” she said. “A good director is one who respects, who understand this and is able to bring a new dimension of the piece. But one thing is to bring a new dimension, the other thing is to destroy the piece.”