Otto Schenk! Love him or hate him, his productions are a staple if you’re a regular at the Wiener Staatsoper or the Met. The Viennese actor/director celebrated his 80th birthday in June and is still going strong, and many of his productions are… well, let’s just say they’re still going, though his Met Ring is on the way out. Today, many of his monuments to comfortable naturalism bear his imprint in name only (and sometimes not even that, reduced to “after Otto Schenk” in Vienna), their sets faded and their original direction nowhere to be seen. But we must see the Schenk that we are given (that we are geSchenkt?), not the Schenk we may wish we had. His productions, often in their beat-up repertory forms, represent the aesthetic mainstream of late-20th century operatic conservatism.
Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting a survey which pits a row of Schenk productions against (drumroll)… THE WORLD. When “the world” means “directors who are not very conservative.” First I shall see the Viennese Schenk productions, and then after New Year’s I shall go to Germany for the anti-Schenk productions of the same operas. This plan is actually pure happenstance, but due to the inclusion of an anniversary opera (Rosenkavalier, 100 years) and a holiday operetta (Fledermaus), it’s not much of a coincidence.
L’elisir d’amore: after Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper, reviewed here in October), then David Bösch (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Fidelio: Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper, DVD), then Calixto Bieito (Bayerische Staatsoper)
Der Rosenkavalier: Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper), then Stefan Herheim (Staatsoper Stuttgart)
Die Fledermaus: after Schenk (Wiener Staatsoper), then Philipp Stölzl (Staatsoper Stuttgart)
Unfortunately, Vienna isn’t seeing fit to haul out their Schenk Fidelio (yes, they have one) just for the sake of symmetry in my schedule, so I will try to take a look at that one on DVD.
The Vienna Rosenkavalier is notable because Schenk actually has been rehearsing it, as the Staatsoper is proud to announce. So at least in this case, I will be able to consider what Schenk is about beyond his preferences in decor. But Schenk himself seems OK with the usual under-rehearsed laxness, recently saying to the Salzburger Nachrichten, “There are almost 30 productions at the Staatsoper. It would be a job in itself, a major assistant director job, [to rehearse them all].”
In the Salzburg interview linked above, Schenk also says some things about directors more adventurous than himself: “I do not have the talent to find in a piece another piece. I can’t say that doing so is always wrong, actually sometimes I greatly admire such things. For example, the Don Giovanni in the forest in Salzburg [directed by Claus Guth -ed.] and the fatally ill, wounded Don Giovanni. That was so thoroughly worked out and moving, as if it were a work by Mozart.” The problem with this is that Schenk is imposing his own aesthetic and finding a new work within works as much as Guth or any other director is. But this is still more open-mindedness than I expected of him.
Schenk can be seen persönlich acting in Klaus Pohl’s play Einmal noch, currently playing at the Theater in der Josefstadt. I was going to go, but the only review I could find didn’t make it sound like a very good time, so I reconsidered. Besides, I think I have enough Otto on my schedule as it is.
Also, non-Schenk related, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are playing Rameau in concert at the Theater an der Wien on Sunday, and I’m not about to miss that.