Friday, 21 September 2012

Klangforum boss: opera in Vienna is artistically bankrupt

Wiener Staatsoper: promoting new art, one stage curtain at a time

I posted about the Klangforum’s 2012/13 season months ago and saw no point in attending a press conference to announce it. Sadly it turns out I missed the opportunity to hear their Intendant Sven Hartberger tell, in blistering fashion, some home truths about our complacent little Welthauptstadt der Musik. Claiming an ‘aggressive attack against all composers working today’, Hartberger called attention to the absence of any opera written during the last seventy years in Vienna’s three main houses this season, adding that ‘the public is being cheated out of these works’. That the Theater an der Wien, which once committed itself to promoting contemporary opera, has programmed nothing written after 1935 (Mathis der Maler) is a ‘disaster’. Following a meeting with Dominique Meyer, who ‘inherited a ruin’, Hartberger hopes there will be fresh impetus for the establishment of a house for contemporary music theatre (an idea floated some years ago, and no more likely now than it was then). Meyer added in follow-up comments to Der Standard that the Staatsoper puts on many 20th century works – er yeah, Der Rosenkavalier counts – and has commissioned new operas to be performed in coming seasons. Talk of ‘finding a balance’ is so unbelievably disingenuous I can’t bring myself to report it, if not quite as fatuous as the comment elsewhere in today’s press that the Klangforum ought to be grateful that the Staatsoper does not compete for their audience. Elsewhere Meyer remarks that ambitions ‘are not so easily realized. C’est la vie’ [sic].

M. le directeur can simper and shrug all he likes, but no amount of clichéd Gallic charm can conceal the fact that what the Staatsoper so abjectly fails to do poses no great difficulty for other European houses: this season the Klangforum will guest in pits including Oslo, Madrid, Toulouse, La Scala and the Bay Staats; and further afield at the Teatro Colon and in Japan.

In Vienna this season some contemporary opera, however loosely we may define it, is to be found on the periphery: tonight and tomorrow, the Sirene Operntheater presents a retrospective of work from thirteen different fringe groups; next month the Neue Oper Wien stages Le grand macabre; in December there is the premiere of a Kafka-inspired chamber opera, Verkehr mit Gespenstern, by Hans-Jürgen von Bose; and in May George Benjamin’s Written on Skin comes to the Festwochen, with the Klangforum in the pit.

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