I first visited
The aim of this article isn´t political, but I can´t avoid the fact that I experienced three different Berlins: in 1964 an isolated but brilliant West and a rundown East; in 1989 the start of the transition to unity, when the scars of the past remained very visible in the East; and now a marvelously vital unified Berlin where you almost see no difference between both sides; twenty years later I felt a glamorous, beautiful, green and open city exempt from traffic jams, vital, disciplined, cosmopolitan and admirable.
The operatic structure remains amazingly like it was in 1964: the two great opera houses I mentioned were already there, as was the Komische Oper, successor to Klemperer´s 1920s Kroll Oper, smaller and always associated with both the avant-garde and its apparent contradiction, operetta. I couldn´t go there, alas, for it would have completed my overview. But some general conclusions can be made anyway. First, the city maintains three fulltime opera houses, and controversy has raged over its impact on the budget, especially now that
There´s another very important matter: the colossal amount of opera available. For these theaters are all repertoire houses, not "stagione" like
I came out of my experience with two opposed impressions: on one side, a hearty respect for the musical quality exhibited (especially the orchestras) and for the well-oiled daily functioning presenting big, difficult and diverse operas night after night: a phenomenal capacity for efficient professional work. On the other, dismay at the aesthetics of the productions, which –as implied in the title of this article- dislodge tradition to such a degree that I felt they are ruining their own culture. This has been going on with increasing strength during the last two decades, and for those who like me believe in maintaining our roots, it´s so discomfiting that I left every night with a bitter taste in my mouth.
The crux of the matter is this: producers feel they have to offer "their" vision of the opera, with no regard to the original contents of the libretti; they think they are co-authors, not interpreters, and that only an extreme avant-garde view will do. Most of the time I couldn´t have told which opera I was viewing by the looks of it, that´s how distorted they were. It´s a curious schizophrenia: libretti and music are left untouched, but anything can go on stage; many call them "concept" productions, which means to have a wholly arbitrary view of the original. The sad thing is that public money and management support such travesties, and so do many critics. It is, I´m afraid, a losing battle to denounce this situation and hope that it will change. It seems to be the "Zeitgeist", the spirit of our time; I can only call it "extreme decay" and say that they give the young terrible models. Certainly they haven´t seen Strauss or Wagner but what the producer imposes on them. Thirty or forty years ago I came out of an opera performance in Germany with a degree of pleasure that has simply disappeared now. In a couple of weeks I will give details of what for me was good and bad in operatic Berlin.
For Buenos Aires Herald