Opera is a European art form. There is no way around it. It has been invented in Europe and its most valued composers are European. But for some years now, a strange phenomenon is happening in the world of Opera: Americans are trying to save the art from the Europeans. At least it is generally the way that some Americans see it.
Essentially, Opera is about singing. There are of course also the elements of the acting and decor involved. But still, essentially it is about singing. Orchestra plays the music and the singer sings.
While the Americans mostly stick to this classical form of Opera, Europeans have moved on and invented what is known as Regietheater. It is German for “Director’s theater” which Americans translate as “Eurotrash“. The Regietheater is different in the sense that it places much more emphasis on acting and the decor compared to the classical Opera. But its main innovation is; its gives its directors the freedom to change the settings of a particular opera to a different one than envisioned by its original creator. A Regietheater opera is often updated to reflect a different period of time, localized to a different geographical, cultural environment.
Germans call it Director’s theater for a good reason: while in classical opera, the conductor of the orchestra is the “boss”, in the former, it is the director. In many ways, Regietheater is more theatrical than the classical opera and to large extend a post World War II phenomenon. It is generally regarded to have started with WWII staging of Wagner’s operas.
Some of its directors are considered geniuses by the proponents of Regietheater, while the ones against, consider them as merely “vandals smashing up the classics”…
Europe naturally still produces also top classical opera performances. And, Regietheater seems to be slowly taking root also in the conservative “new world”…
Regietheater – The death of opera? – Early Music World
The abduction of Opera – City Journal
Image Credit: Budapest Opera house interior. By Andrea Puggioni / CC BY