Monday, 24 September 2012

Bachler fouls the national nest

This has not been a great week for Viennese pretensions of cultural grandeur. A couple of days ago the Klangforum’s Intendant vented his frustration at the Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien, saying that he has been silent for too long about the museum culture he sees hardening at both houses, and now Klaus Bachler has held forth in a provocative interview which harks back to the culture wars of the 1990s, when one heretical remark about our einzigartige Kulturnation, or ‘isola felice’ as Pope Paul VI once put it, was enough to get you branded a Nestbeschmutzer by Jörg Haider. Gert Korentschnig, one of the few Viennese music journalists worth reading, has a knack for pushing buttons, though as with many a Nestbeschmutzung piece – and let us not forget this was elevated into a literary genre by the likes of Bernhard and Jelinek – the rhetoric is backed up by the legitimacy of the claims made. In English Bachler’s comments seem all the more calmly and incisively worded; for my translation of selected highlights follow the jump.

On the Bay Staats
It’s like this: many houses, particularly in Germany, Belgium and Holland, aspire to interpret works in ways that can speak to us today. But often they don’t have the musical possibilities available to bigger institutions. The big league opera houses in turn have the best orchestras and singers, but mostly reactionary and meaningless productions. I believe there is currently no house in the world that tries the combine the two as Munich does. The determination to put on contemporary music theatre is a matter of artistic necessity, not provocation.

On the difference between Munich and Vienna
Munich looks forward, and the love of the past that we know so well from Vienna is not to be found here. Munich prefers to live in the present, with great openness but also a good, lively friction. [...] The cultural scene here concerns itself with actual artistic matters, not gossip or personal feelings. And certainly not cultural politics conducted in a provincial manner [pinch of salt perhaps called for].

On Viennese cultural chauvinism
The competition in Munich is too great for the media to declare any one event to be of global importance. To be ‘world famous’ in Vienna often means that your name is recognized only as far as Purkersdorf [a Viennese suburb and, well, ouch]. Vienna has some wonderful aspects and many fantastic institutions. But whether these are living up to their reputation is another matter. [...] I don’t see much in Vienna these days and can’t give you examples. What I can say is that in Germany one hardly ever hears of what happens in Vienna. That really says it all.

On the Burgtheater
Criticism is the wrong word. I have only said that I sense dumbing down there. The Burgtheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt are now much closer to each other [under Matthias Hartmann, sadly true]. But as I said before, I barely notice what is going on. There is no opera premiere where I think: now I really must head to Vienna. There are no signs of artistic life there.

On the Wiener Festwochen
The Wiener Festwochen’s projects are often still exciting. But questions remain: ‘what is this festival?’ ‘Where is it anchored?’ ‘Where does it stand in relation to Vienna’s theatrical scene?’ Markus Hinterhäuser is a proven and talented concert promoter. But what gets played at the Musikverein and Konzerthaus under the auspices of the Festwochen actually has very little to do with the broader Festwochen programme. Vienna’s bastions of tradition remain just that.

On Salzburg and Regietheater
Pereira is authentic. He does what he believes in. And we all know what that is, so nothing has really surprised me. It’s clear that I have a different idea of what art should be about. Bigger, higher, further, faster – that doesn’t interest me. I am not a business or sports manager. What did perplex me in Salzburg this summer however was the announcement of an end to Regietheater. Aha! And what comes next? Concert performances in costumes and masks? Peter Stein? Harry Kupfer? That we will somehow be rescued by the past? That’s just stupid. When a production falls short it doesn’t mean that we should dispense with the responsibility of producing theatre. It is through conductors and directors that a narrative gets put on stage, and that works only when there is something relevant to see; otherwise opera would be senseless. [...] One sees in Italy how opera is dying, because for decades it has no longer aspired to be theatre.

On Austria
You can tell when you go abroad, how much one is Austrian. The feelings. The sentimentality. I miss especially the language and its colouring. But if you look closer, you think to yourself: this is like some rogue state in the third world and not a civilized country in Western Europe. I have the feeling that the busiest people in Austria now are prosecutors and investigative judges [!]. Sometimes I wonder who the hell is not involved in shady dealings. [...] Carinthia is not a special case: the politicians there are just like our national politicians and vice versa. The brown tinge to our politics maybe originated there, but now it extends across the whole country. If I take only the most recent case of this cartoon from Herr Strache, which is so unsavoury, and think that these people sit in my country’s parliament, it makes me sick.

On Germany and Austria
What strikes me about Bavaria is that the racism one is so used to in Austria, the party political posters, what gets said; all that doesn’t exist here. Even [Bavarian right-winger] Franz Josef Strauß said that politically there could be nothing to the right of the CSU, and that has been honoured. I believe that the Germans made real progress after the catastrophe of the Third Reich and embraced democracy. The Austrians have suppressed that part of their history. They were the first occupied – this conviction continues to the present day. The Austrians are a highly gifted people, but they are gifted at everything, including betrayal and swindling. Nowadays I am less inclined to claim that everything is terrible in Austria. It is more that I feel ashamed.

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