Images of Regietheater

This is a followup to the question that arose yesterday about whether Dörrie’s Così is Regie or not. These are the first images that come up on a google search for “regietheater.”

These seem kind of apt to me in some ways, although they certainly highlight the association of regie with gratuitous violence, weirdness, nudity and political grandstanding. Maybe a better category for these images would be ‘what everyone thinks of regie’ or ‘stereotypical regie’ rather than ‘regie’ in a general sense. What I like about Regie is the use of abstract visual things to make an emotional point (e.g. the glass vessels in Sellars’s Theodora or the feel of the set in Kusej’s Clemenza di Tito) or the consideration of the work as a piece of theater (e.g. that Amsterdam 2008 production of Entführung where the set falls away piece by piece). Ideally the concept and the work itself click together in a way that primarily serves to enhance or deepen one’s reaction to the work – but of course this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the concept gets in the way, or is overbearing, or distracting.

And then there are those productions that are on the edge of Regie. When I was thinking about Dörrie’s Così one of the reasons that I wanted to call it regie was that the director hadn’t just updated it in a general way, but had picked a specific time/place to update it to, which both revealed her take on the opera and dictated a lot of the feel of the performance. You could probably say the same thing about that Bayerische Staatsoper Rodelinda that’s set in the 1940s, in the sense that it’s updated to a specific time/place and this indicates a specific view of the feel of the work. But I wouldn’t call that Rodelinda regie. I think it’s because that 1940s/mafiosa setting didn’t seem to dictate so much of the singers’ acting and interpretation of the roles as Dörrie’s Così did. With Così I felt the director’s presence and management of it more strongly than I did David Alden’s of that Rodelinda. Alden gave the opera a little more space to do its own thing than Dörrie does. (Then again, I wouldn’t want to claim that regie is characterized by concepts that micromanage the performers – good regie certainly does not.)

One other question that Dörrie’s Così raised in my mind is whether Regie is necessarily serious. Usually it seems like it’s serious. Guth is serious. Kusej is serious. But then again sometimes not – Sellars is often serious, but sometimes he’s kind of wacky as well. Dörrie is definitely interested in having fun with the opera, making the audience smile – and ‘playful’ is not necessarily the first word I’d come up with if someone gave me a Regie-based word association test.

33 thoughts on “Images of Regietheater

  1. Surely “Regietheater” is one of those labels that exists only because its opponents or detractors choose to so label it like “Puritan” or “Pagan”. (Is there a word for this phenomenon?). I don’t think any director would say that he was doing “Regie” anymore than a 17th Calvinist would have labelled him/herself as a “Puritan”.


    1. Hey! I inspired a blog post. Cooool!

      Thanks, EW for your thoughtful reply to my question yesterday, and for this post.! I was sort of having some thoughts kinda like these, but not feeling able to articulate them. This post is going into my “Blog Posts I Wish I had Written” series!

      And thanks OR, because I think you’ve hit on a good point, though most detractors use that other (ET) word. Probably the non-detractors had to come up with a positive word quickly. But yes, it’s like any period or style of art. Bach didn’t consider himself to be writing Baroque music.

      Now we have to do a Parterre-style “name that regie production” for the photos above!!




      1. Well maybe what we really need is a portmanteau word for shallow. thoughtless productions. Katherina Wagner apparently refers to anything of that ilk presented to her as “too Otto”. I think we know what she means! I wish I had a good suggestion but all the combinations of Sher and Gelb I’ve tried don’t really work.


      2. re: the photos: the last one looks like an Alcina to me . . .

        (And ugh, that word ‘eurotrash’ – I don’t know why I hate it so much. Partly because it blames Europeans for something only a few Europeans and some Americans and others do too. And while it’s dismissive, it doesn’t really hit bang on at what it claims to be criticizing, which is pointless stupid stuff for the sake of shocking/alarming.)


          1. I can understand that – I’ve gotten to the point that whenever I hear the word “eurotrash” what I actually hear is “this is unfamiliar and might be good or it might not be good, but I can’t be bothered to figure out which”. The term doesn’t actually tell anyone anything about the production.


            1. If someone says “Eurotrash”: to me I just retort with “Ameribore”. I think this term is on the same level of stereotyping and witless backlash.


        1. I just looked it up – staged as a critique of modern American society (and apparently sold out). Looks like it’s also the source of the image of the woman in the pink dress and Hitler mustache.


    2. I think you’re right – directors wouldn’t claim to be doing “regie.” On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of use of the term in a non-derogatory sense. I mean, I’d definitely call Claus Guth’s Mozart productions regie, but I also think they’re pretty great. I think we do need two separate words for shallow, thoughtless, self-indulgent productions versus good abstract/high-concept productions.

      Which makes me wonder if there’s even a meaningful distinction between “good regie” and “good production” in general – both are going to be interesting, serve the work rather than themselves, and make one think, with the only difference being that the first is maybe more abstract/intellectual/startling/new than the second.


      1. “Which makes me wonder if there’s even a meaningful distinction between “good regie” and “good production” in general”

        Well quite! So I’ve seen, obviously, Regie used non-derogatively but I still don’t think it’s a useful term. One should praise or criticize a production for what works and what doesn’t, not for what ill-defined bucket someone chooses to place it in.


        1. It’s true – a good production is a good production regardless of style. At the same time, part of me does like having a term to separate the more conceptual/abstract good productions from others which are equally good, but in a more conventional or less ‘pay attention to me!’ way. I suppose conceptual/abstract/inventive versus conventional works in a sense, so ‘regie’ as a term isn’t strictly necessary – but it can be a useful shorthand. (Although as with all shorthands, it should not be used as a substitute for actually thinking about the production, which I guess is the danger of having such a term in the first place.)


          1. Oh my goodness. If we get rid of the term, I will have to change the name of my blog; and somehow, “Conceptual/abstract/inventive, or not Conceptual/abstract/inventive?” just doesn’t have much of a ring to it.


              1. whew! thanks!

                Speaking of regie, I just got the Neufels Entführung (“the one with the double cast”) I picked it up cheap at Amazon. (I also go the Konwitschny Lohengrin – the one where they’re all school children – and w/ E. Magee!)

                Come on Weekend!!!!!


                1. Unless something unexpected turns up I may be stuck with Tan Dun’s “Marco Polo”. I’ve watched the interviews and stuff and watched maybe half an hour. Thus far I’m not impressed. On the brighter side I’m seeing Chris Alden’s “Fledermaus” again tomorrow night.


  2. Re: Regie being serious. I would have to say it does not necessarily need to be dead serious to be regie. For example, that Neufels Cosi with the double cast. I think it certainly IS saying some serious things, but it goes about it in a more affectionate and lighthearted way than maybe Guth or Kusej or Bieito would.

    Or the Richard Jones/Antony McDonald Boheme for the Bregenz festival: it’s regie-ish, and seems to have a point of view, but it is done in a pretty light way. And, given all the givens, there is a some humor left in Guth’s Ariadne.

    So, I think yes, Regie can laugh (sometimes, but not usually). Well, maybe not laugh, but chuckle quietly; or smile ironically. Probably never giggle, though.


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