This thin line between interpretation and betrayal

Renowned conductor René Jacobs has just released a recording of the opera on Harmonia Mundi Der Freischütz of Weber who revisits the work and opposes the critics. Almost at the same time, the Bayreuth Festival experienced, on the occasion of the performance of the Twilight of the Gods, which the German press called “a hurricane of boos” and cataloged as the biggest scandal in the history of the demonstration. Up to what point can one reinterpret a work without betraying or distorting it?

“One of the rare admirers of Valentin Schwarz [le metteur en scène du Ring] at rank 19 fails to impose its “Bravo”. The woman behind him boos. He tells her: “Shut your mouth, you idiot.” We come to threaten ourselves with legal action…” Jan Brachmann thus describes, in the renowned daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungthe Buh Orkan (hurricane of boos) saluting the Twilight of the Gods in Bayreuth at the beginning of August.

This television production is accessible on the media library of the first German channel ARD for those who have a VPN.

A vaccinated public

However, it has been a long time since European spectators, especially Germans, have been accustomed to stage re-readings called ” Regietheater “. It is therefore not to see the history of the gods of the Wagnerian tetralogy reduced to a family chronicle that causes scandal. This public was able to tolerate, in spite of the strange work of destructuring its fiber romanticism, the Tristan and Isolda by Dmitri Tcherniakov in Berlin (just released on DVD by Bel Air) where the protagonists, passengers on a luxury yacht, are more inclined to laugh than to love each other after drinking the love potion.

This public is above all able to appreciate and applaud, in Bayreuth in 2019, the disconcerting Tannhauser way ” road movie » (on DVD from DG) by Tobias Kratzer, model of Regietheater of an unbridled inventiveness, very funny and which renews access to the work.

This staging is above all very cultivated with fair interactions between the characters.

The object of Buh Orkan is the arbitrary that the journalist Jan Brachmann, after having attended the four operas of the tetralogy, can describe more pertinently than the simple viewer of this sinister Dusk. “Grane, who in Wagner is Brünnhilde’s horse, became in Siegfried her lover and, in the Dusk, the elderly servant of the family (Siegfried, Brünnhilde and their son), until he is finally tortured and beheaded by the staff. As a self-referential gag of the direction, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, as Gunther, wears a t-shirt with the inscription “Who the fuck is Grane?”. »

Far from claiming incompetence, Brachmann poses the subject very pertinently, seeing the show as “a symptom of our time”. “This staging […] mourns the legibility of the world and resigns itself to the idea that habitability in a meaningless cosmos is just a farce. It expresses the pessimism of a new generation [Schwarz a 33 ans] who no longer places bets on the future and whose utopias make you vomit. […] Even art can no longer save us from misery. »

Art and morals

Can we make a work constituted in another time the stepping stone of an ideological posture? The question arose with great acuity in 2018 when the Florence Opera entrusted director Leo Muscato with his short story Carmen. Muscato had then adapted the end of the opera, and it was Carmen who killed Don José. “At a time marked by the scourge of violence against women, it is inconceivable that we applaud the murder of one of them”, said Muscato, quoted by Le Figaro.

Questioned by Europe 1 radio in France, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven then drew a red line: “We distort a work when we want to impose a filter on it that is moral. Morality has nothing to do with art. » Not to mention that when we applaud Carmen, we do not applaud a murder, but a masterpiece of lyrical art and that the last sentence of the libretto in the mouth of Don José is “you can arrest me, it is I who have it killed”. Enthoven did not fail to add: “What is terrifying is that the censor now sees himself as a hero. In the 19the century, the conservatives were reactionary. Today, paradoxically, the Conservatives are progressive. They argue, impose, believe that they are changing a work when they only reduce it by amputating its immorality. »

The broadening of meaning is what Claus Guth argues in a Bohemia by Puccini in Paris in 2017, available on, but which we could also see on Stingray Classica recently. Astronauts in a spaceship are doomed to death and in thought, through doubles (dressed in black) on stage, relive past times. Rodoldo will die on the moon, with his other astronaut friends, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard, where they will meet Mimi, who is a kind of shooting star. There are countless hiatuses with the libretto.

In Scenes from bohemian life by Murger, which served as the basis for the libretto, Guth sees as a recurring subject “death and things that fade as soon as they exist”, hence his “invention of a parallel story” placed in “a future time” and which puts a group of protagonists “in the face of death”.

The final collective death thus symbolizes, according to Guth, that “our world is threatened and that we repress this observation”. One might suggest that the creation of an autonomous work like the brilliant film Don’t Look Up (cosmic denial) by Adam McKay serves this purpose much better than this crater-like phantasmagoria that wipes its feet on Puccini.

At the composer’s table

In the musical world of the last twenty years, a new genre has emerged: scenography superimposed on sacred works. That’s a topic in its own right, but the mix is ​​often high-risk, as evidenced by The Passion according to Saint Matthew by Bach revised by Romeo Castelucci and conducted in Hamburg by Kent Nagano.

The last subject of great interest is the deviation of a work, not in the artefacts of its visual presentation, but through an intervention on its nature. Stronger still than the men or the artificial intelligences who are in charge of finishing, even of inventing symphonies that Schubert or Beethoven never composed, comes to us at Harmonia Mundi a Freischütz by Weber by René Jacobs, star of the Baroque movement.

An initially very inventive performer, Jacobs has become very intrusive for the past fifteen years, almost starting to “stage” his own supposed genius, a subject we covered in April 2021 in “To stand out or do justice to the composer? “.

the Freischütz (maverick) by Weber (1821) is an important work. Kind of operatic theater (Singspiel), it is one of the last lights and masterpieces of a major genre of German opera, marginalized by the Wagnerian revolution, but which includes Mozart (The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Magic Flute), Beethoven (Fidelio) and Schubert (Die Verschworenen).

Jacobs, wanting to “defend the poet against the composer”, went to recompose a 1D scene conceived by the librettist, but which Weber had discarded dramatically. He does not specify that, in doing so, by composing this part to blend in with the work, he puts himself on an equal footing with Weber. The application of a “historically informed” approach that anchors the musical aesthetic towards the beginning of the 19e century is convincing on many levels for an often heavy opera. This is a positive point of this publication. While Jacobs does not avoid certain distribution pitfalls (his heroine, Polina Pasztircsák, is mediocre), the biggest problem comes from his other major idea; that of transforming the Freischütz in Hörspiel.

The ” Horspiel », or radio play, is a common genre in Germanic countries. It’s not so much the meeting of technological artifice and the search for historical sonorities that shocks, but the abusive and absurd intrusion of this studio-made theatricality. Snippets of dialogue, remarks interrupt the music all the time, whether they are beautiful tunes or major scenes like that of the “Gorge aux loups”, and laminate the strength and the beauty of Weber’s music.

Schwarz, Muscato, Guth, Jacobs have certainly made “the buzz”. Wasn’t that, basically, the primary goal? Because facing Wagner, Bizet, Puccini and Weber, they crossed the red line; that consisting in monopolizing the work of a creator not to serve it, but to serve oneself.

To see in video

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