Gabriel Bacquier Speaks Out on Tcherniakov's Giovanni
By Frank Cadenhead
17 Aug 2010
Gabriel Bacquier, the French baritone legend and one of the great Don Giovannis of recent memory, has unloaded both barrels at the new production (available for free online viewing) of Mozart's masterpiece which headlined the Aix-en-Provence festival this July.
His commentary is certainly the most colorful of a wide-ranging critique of the production and raises questions about the extreme freedom given to directors to impose their "vision" on the operas they are staging.
Bad boy director Dmitri Tcherniakov first came to international attention when retired star soprano (and wife of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich) Galina Vishnevskaya walked out of the Bolshoi Opera premier of his staging of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and vowed never to set foot in the house again. The Paris Opera, then under Gerard Mortier, brought this production to Paris where it received a generally enthusiastic reception. Mortier ordered a second effort by Tcherniakov, a clumsy and confused Macbeth of Verdi which was roundly booed by both audiences and critics. Many were asking whether Tcherniakov had talent or was he just lucky with the Onegin?
The Don Giovanni that opened the Aix-en-Provence festival had sexual excess as a principal theme, a deranged Don and a weak cast. The critics gave it a serious pummeling. Bacquier, in his blog, comments that "I am not especially known to be squeamish or prudish," but continued "in past centuries there was the opera house where we gave opera, and theaters where they gave pornographic performances. Why not? We knew where we were going and what we would find."
He then denounced the production specifically: "No staging, no direction of actors, just pornographic exercises that betray the work... How can directors, musicians, conductors, musicians and singers endorse such nonsense? ... The dictatorship of directors is that of pornographers who flaunt their neuroses as if they were one of the fine arts." He concluded, "I have worked with wonderful directors and many bad ones, but I always preferred to betray the director than the work. Too bad that my younger colleagues do not do that!"
He wondered why a German orchestra (the Freiberg Baroque Orchestra) was imported for the pit, except for the "snob" appeal. The French critics, with less colorful language, were equally severe. Marie-Aude Roux, a critic of the newspaper "Le Monde" accused the director of "deconstructing the myths and models of Don Giovanni to the point that the music is sometimes inappropriate. Should he openly destroy the organic link that unites the drama by interposing a disturbing narrative with panels dropping down as in silent films?" She concludes that "Tcherniakov relegates the music of the Mozart opera to a secondary level." Another critic, Gilles Mascassar of the magazine "Telerama" notes that the single set and large table is the same theatrical device he uses in Onegin. "But what works for Tchaikovsky and Pushkin is a fiasco for Mozart and Da Ponte. Tcherniakov turns the libretto upside down, multiplying unnecessary inconsistencies and fantasies. The result is a work completely ruined..." Mascassar concludes by noting that a director "is not the owner of the work but only a tenant, accountable for the words and notes as written. To a conductor who insisted on changing the score Stravinsky replied superbly: 'Here, my friend, you are not at your house.'
By coincidence, the very same Eugene Onegin is now in London where the Bolshoi is in residence at the Royal Opera. On August 12, the "Telegraph" critic, Rupert Christiansen, wrote the following: "Be warned. Aspects of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s vision of Eugene Onegin may get on your nerves: it is often mannered and hyperactive, and sometimes wrong-headed to the point of perversity. Yet ultimately it doesn’t matter, because Tcherniakov’s overall engagement with Tchaikovsky’s romance is so sincerely thoughtful, theatrically imaginative and unfailingly alive. The production not only penetrates to the heart of the piece but also launches the Bolshoi Opera, long a haven for cardboard sets, vacuous tradition and ham acting, on a new path through the 21st century."
The Eugene Onegin was recorded on DVD and is available commercially. The Don Giovanni is available for viewing on the internet without charge at firstname.lastname@example.org. The discussion is far from over.