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Diary
By Bartleby (Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 02:07:16 AM EST) (all tags)
Holidays are looming, today's my last chance to post a diary before the internet will be cut off.

Director's opera. Against the Day. Measuring the World.



Any opera aficionados out there who can place this diary's title? It's from Mozart's Idomeneo. I don't know to which extent that story was reported abroad; anyway, a production of the opera at Berlin's Deutsche Oper was cancelled in September due to vague fears of a possible attack by Muslim extremists.

The plot of the opera, in a nutshell, is this: Cretan king Idomeneo, returning from the Troyan war, is prevented from reaching his island by a storm cooked up by sea god Neptune who only refrains from destroying Idomeneo's fleet when the king vows to sacrifice the first living being he sees upon reaching Crete. Turns out to be his son, of course. In the end, love conquers all and everybody lives happily everafter, as befits an opera.

You can interpret this in two ways. Either as a show of reconciliation between gods and humans (or those in power and those without), or, au contraire, you could argue the reconciliatory ending is due exclusively to opera conventions of the time and the real message of the piece is in what happens before that. The latter was how Hans Neuenfels, the director of this production, saw it, and in an apparent attempt to make sure everybody got it, he added a pantomimic epilogue, in which Idomeneo returns onto the empty stage with a bag from which he takes the severed heads of Neptune, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, and puts them on chairs.

The director of the opera house said she received warnings from Berlin's Senator (minister) of the Interior and from the police that there might be an attack, and cancelled the premiere. Still, as I said, the warnings were vague, and the director was heavily criticised for preemptive capitulation in face of a threat that nobody had even made yet.

Last Monday, the production was shown again. Reportedly, nothing noteworthy happened, neither off stage nor on stage.

Hans Neuenfels is one of the more promintent proponents of so-called Regietheater. English-language wikipedia has an entry on the German term, but not on the English translations given in that same article, director's/producer's opera. I wonder if that indicates the German word is being used as a loan word by English-speaking theatre people. The concept seems to have originated here, in an attempt to salvage Wagner's operas from the Nazi embrace.

The most powerful person in Regietheater is the director (Regisseur). Opponents of Regietheater would argue that directors misuse drama or opera as a quarry for material they use for erecting monuments to themselves, not giving a damn about such unworthy plebes as authors, composers, musicians, actors, or the audience. Proponents would argue that there is no such thing as the one and holy original form of a piece anyway (not least because audiences today are very different from those, say, in Mozart's time), and they'd prefer to honour tradition by carrying on the fire, rather than worshipping the ashes.

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Not much of a Christmas spirit this year. The weather's just dull and dreary; there seems to be much less decoration this year, too. In the first years after reunification, you'd notice if you crossed the former border at night because it was visibly brighter on the east side. People would have all sorts of more or less flashy and colourful electric lights in their windows, whereas the style in the west was more subdued. Over time the west caught up, though.

Christmas shopping proved once again that book stores are an environment I should keep away from, especially at times when the penny-pinching part of me lies in chains in some remote dungeon of my rotten soul. In particular I shouldn't have asked how long it'd take to order Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Against the day. "You're lucky, you can have it tomorrow."

Money is the root of all evil,
Take it away, take it away, take it away.

I got a book for my brother's girlfriend that managed to make critics faint as well as to knock Dan Brown's Godawful Book I Shall Not Name from the top of the bestsellers' lists: Die Vermessung der Welt (Measuring the World) by Daniel Kehlmann. Since I was talking of Pynchon, Kehlmann's book might interest you if you liked Mason & Dixon. There are some resemblances. It's much shorter, though.

It's a sort of semifictional (or more than semi) double biography of mathematician C. F. Gauß and the younger one of the Humboldt brothers, Alexander. The former mostly stays at or near home, while the latter embarks on his great expedition across Latin America, but both obsessively try to get the natural world under their control. Not much of a spoiler that in different ways they both fail. In the novel, anyway.

Critics almost uniformly praise the book as funny, elegant and light-handed. Especially anglophone reviewers seem to be surprised that a book like this should have been written by a German (or rather German-Austrian) author. My votum separatum is that while all this is true, I found the book fairly depressing, in a good way. Chilly. Both protagonists are portrayed as obsessive monomaniacs with the human warmth of an Antarctic glacier. Life turns out to be reliably nasty for the few characters I could actually empathize with. Not much to warm your heart in this book, I'm not too unhappy to pass it on, still very much worth a read.

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Merry Christmas, happy New Year, frohe Weihnachten, etc. And be careful with the candy.

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