Rate the Regie

Wilhelm Tell by Dalí

The enigma of Wilhelm Tell by Salvador Dalí, 1933
© Salvador Dalí, Fundación Gala-Salvador Dali/BUS 2012

Opera Regie has made the news again. This time some Royal Opera House patrons took umbrage at a scene depicting sexual violence during Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. Mid-performance booing and shouting ensued. Venetian director Damiano Michieletto has defended the rape scene, pointing out that rape is an instrument of oppression. The plot is indeed about an occupied people rising against its oppressors, who are so depraved that they make a marksman shoot an apple on his son’s head. Like many who have commented on this Guillaume Tell, I haven’t seen it. The only Michieletto production I have seen is his handsome Il viaggio a Reims, which was a witty exploration of how we relate to the artistic canon. Commendably, the ROH management is standing by their production while acknowledging the public outrage.

Regie is really only German for direction, but the word is often used to refer to non-traditional ways of staging opera.  Since these Regie kerfuffles ignite on a regular basis, maybe opera houses could come up with a production rating system. Forewarned  patrons would then attend at their own risk. A proposal:

Restful Regie: Prozac for haters of modern productions. The staging follows the libretto verbatim. Features frilly collars and gold leaf. Opera-goers seeking mental stimulation might zonk out.

Reduction Regie: Minimalistic production that aims for classic timelessness. , Depending on the director, it is monumentally boring or brilliant, like Robert Wilson’s Madama Butterfly, but Regie Rating is a classification, not an ante-premiére review.

Relocation Regie: Regie for the mild of slant. The plot is relocated in time/and or space, usually Franco’s Spain, Fascist Italy or a vague Middle East. However, the production remains faithful to the plot. Relocation Regie comes in two aesthetic variants: Sleek and Frowzy. Sleek productions look good and take their design credentials seriously. Frowzy ones aim for everyday realism and feature costumes bought at a mid-priced department store somewhere in Mitteleuropa.

Ringling Brothers Circus Regie: You need at least an extra pair of eyes to follow everything on stage. Dazzling machinery, video installations, trapeze, prosthetics and everything else that the guys at La Fura dels Baus can fit in. Pure Regie caffeine.

Artist-In-Residence Regie: The production has been designed and/or directed by a well-known artist or film director. The audience will include celebrities from the local literary and visual arts scene. Two examples: François Girard’s Parsifal and the recent Kentridge Lulu in Amsterdam.

Racy Regie: Contains one or more of the following: nudity, orgies, sexual violence, gore, explicit sexual congress, shooting up, toilets.

Rage-Roiling Regie: Anything with semi-human Nazis or terrorists or burning teddy bears.

Wreck It Regie: The director comments on the work by totally deconstructing text and plot . The dramaturg is bleary-eyed from working overtime and only very clever intellectuals can figure out all the references. Frank Castorf’s Ring is a good example. For hip, puzzle-solving brainiacs.

Radical Rethink Regie: The riskiest Regie of all. The director comes up with a totally new  staging concept. Many sneer at first, but it has the potential to become a classic. Case in point: the Rat Lohengrin by Hans Neuenfels, in which the characters become subjects in a lab experiment.

Many opera productions are hybrids and would need a combined rating, say Artist-In-Residence with traces of Racy. More than two labels would be confusing and cause the patrons to stay home. Zealots could use the Regie Rating to strategically play their booing offensives, but most opera-goers are perfectly decent people.

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