Sven, I understand your contribution as a statement against any rigid orthodoxy, and insofar it has my sympathy. And it points to the fact, that there is never a general line between: That is ok, that not. It always depends. For me for instance some extremely witty stage productions of the young Frank Castorf in Berlin Volksbühne are still unforgettable highlights in my career as theater-fan, though they totally destroyed a piece of Schiller or Shakespeare. But they created a world of their own. But that is an exception; most stage directors do not have this power. Another aspect is: Is a work well known or not. DONNERSTAG certainly is not well known. In this case for me there is the ethical "command": You should present the work without your subjective reactions, just to make it known. But even then, I would admit, is orthodoxy not the solution; it is simply not possible. For things change; in another decade or century to preserve the message of a traditional text, you must say it in a changed way. That for instance is a basic principle in Biblical hermeneutics. In this way the listener belongs to a text (or a score) you want to deliver. But in spite of that not "anything goes". But, to repeat my opinion: You must ask, what the original message is, and then deliver that in the pictures and words of your time. Sure, you must dare something, and you can fail. But that is inevitable. And if you do not have the power to create your own work (as in the example of Castorf), then you have to respect the author, the composer you work with, in the willingness to repeat for now, what the artist of the past wanted to tell us. But, excuse me, that is a bit too general. Therefore one special point: You asked, if for Stockhausen there could be different conditions. One example for that could be a work like LICHT-BILDER from SONNTAG: There are 4 musicians on stage and they have to play the score, and also the movements of these 4 musicians are totally fixed by the composer and are very much connected with the movements of the pitches in the score. So, in this example, the stage director here has really nothing to do. Instead the artist who creates the BILDER, the pictures, the video-artist has to work here, and Stockhausen gives him all possible freedom. Because everything that happens on stage is so connected to the music, I feel nothing can be changed, and the stage-director has to step aside. Again an example to the general statement: It depends...
Thank you to all of you, for the efforts you made to give all these different analyses and perspectives. I have learned a lot ! I shall go on to read the new comments with interest. There is already so much for me to meditate ! All the best. Alain
Thank you Sven for all of this. I think you summarise the questions and dilemmas very well, and I agree with many of the conclusions you make but, also, in my continuous tendency toward confusion and self contradiction, I also agree with much of Thomas's response. I think maybe it comes down to this: there is much to recommend and support the various approaches to these dilemmas and I think it is perhaps unfortunate when we fail to respect the value of all views.
I, for one, have always been very supportive of new and innovative approaches to staging, as long as they are not mere gimmickry and as long as they are genuinely respectful of the piece. To me, this loyalty to the piece itself is even more important than loyalty to its creator, especially in very great works of art where often the work is even bigger and broader than what its creator imagined. I am sure this is the case with Stockhausen, and especially with LICHT, where there will be many things in that work of which even he was not conscious. He wrote not only with the intellect, after all ... but with something more profound, whatever we understand that to be - his own unconscious intuition, the voice of God, the vibrations of the cosmos. Any or all of these.
A skilled producer will be able to tap into these new and previously unexplored layers of meaning and thus stay loyal to the piece, while taking different directions to what the composer explicitly stated. So for all these reasons I continue to have respect for this new production. But I also know that, as deeply and all as I believe I have come to know this music, there is still much for me to learn about it. And so when someone, such as Suzanne Stephens, who was at the composer's side all throughout its composition and a partner in every stage of its realisation and is, in a very real sense, its co-creator, remarks that details in the score have been omitted or seriously changed, I have to listen to that too. So, while a production may find things in the piece of which the composer was unaware, it may also neglect things of which I was unaware.
So ultimately, I believe it is important for us all to be open to both sets of possibilities - and I am finding the discussion here, and elsewhere, is helping me to do that, on a journey that for me has only started.
One thing, though, that I would strongly disagree with in some of the criticisms of this production is the criticism that it trivialised and reduced the story. I really think quite the opposite - it portrayed all the depth and profundity of the story, in my view, in a way that still, when I reflect upon it, brings tears to my eyes. I have rarely been so deeply moved in an opera production than I was in this at watching Michael's final realisation of what it means to be a human. He had struggled with this so much and then realised, at last, the sham of glamour, the futility of trying to ignore his own vulnerabilities. His true homecoming, I thought, was a the end of FESTIVAL, when he is at last ready to confront and, most importantly, to be wounded by, all that his father - and Luzifer - represented. Only then was he ready to really understand his life, and to embrace and unmask that little child and to see how humanity was something to be loved, in spite of everything. Maybe, even, because of everything. I like to think that both the souls of angels and the soul of Stockhausen would have been moved by this.
But, despite all of this, I also totally accept, and agree with, the remarks about what has been left out of the score in terms of composed gestures and movements. I agree with Sven that there can be some stage directions in the score that are more ambiguous than, say, the composed gestures, in terms of how crucial they are as components of the music. I think it is only possible to come to a view about these parts of the score through studying it and listening to those who know it well. These are all examples of why it is so very very important for a producer of Stockhausen's operas to send time working with and listening to the people who know these issues very well, and that is why I think the tradition of the Stockhausen Stiftung is extremely important and must be maintained and respected. So I accept the range of views about how well or not this production connected with the score. I just can't accept that it was not a strong and profound telling of Michael's journey into humanity.
I dropped the name of Castorf not by chance. I know that his approach would awaken sentimental memories of a time when destroying pieces was fashionable. In my view it never was acceptable and I never thought of Castorf et al. as great directors. Maybe this is my fault but looking at those stagings nowadays, they appear to be either hopelessly antediluvian or awkwardly offending (or both). Question: When it was okay to destroy pieces in those days, why not today? Or didn´t Steier destroy DONNERSTAG totally enough to create a world of her own? To say: it always depends, is not really convincing to me. Who decides? A fortiori, it is much more true to point to the fact that DONNERSTAG is not known well and should have been presented to the public in a way that preserves the intentions of Stockhausen and especially of the score. This is a fact and cannot be disputed, and the Stockhausen-Stiftung could point to that fact in a contract as Christian wrote. But I am afraid that this would limit presentations of LICHT operas. And I must repeat myself that this would be a pity because I want to hear the music.
It is interesting to note that some of the producers originally considered for the first performances of DONNERSTAG aus LICHT included Peter Stein and Harry Kupfer. It would have been interesting to know what they would have done!
Adorján, just a short reply: 1. as you said: An unknown work generally should be presented in a way that it is respected as much as possible (though even there are exceptions: I remember the staging of "Wessis in Weimar" by Einar Schleef - but that was really exceptionally). 2. To Castorf: You can do that. what he did, if you can do it. Who decides, if...? The single member of the public. Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. And it is important to see, that mainly his best productions were second-rate pieces, like "Pension Schöller", or "Clockwork Orange". But that is an endless theme, and I very much look forward to our next meeting face to face and our future discussions. What I want to say, is: There is no overall rule. It depends, and the judge are simply YOU!
Sorry to keep adding extra comments - but the more I read, think, and talk with others, the more ideas come to me. In this case it is about the gestures in the score. I have been speaking with some who have suggested to me that sometimes the gestures have been maintained in this production, but expressed in new ways - a clap instead of a hammer-strike, for example. I know some people would not agree with that sort of change, and once again I totally understand their position ... but it is driving home to me more and more how seriously the artists and production team have taken to their task and how earnestly they have a worked to be loyal to the score as well as to their task of bringing this magnificent work to their audience. I would be interested to hear others' thoughts on this issue. It is perhaps possible that the things we think are missing or that have been taken from us have in fact been there all the time, in a different form, like when Stockhausen once said of Luzikamel in MICHAELION, that he was, after all, just Michael in disguise?
Thomas, what you say about the second-rate pieces and Castorf is interesting. Castorf could build his own vision because the pieces were week - but he needed them nevertheless. The were only a vehicle for him and so he could become an author himself. This reminds me of what Stockhausen said when people wanted to change his operas: Please create something of your own, instead. He surely believed his operas to be first-rate in every respect. I do not want to be heretic but e. g. Boulez said that he did not understand why Stockhausen did not hire a poet or writer for the text books of his operas. Boulez thought (and actually said) that it was inevitable that the texts of LICHT became dilettantish. I do not want to discuss this further here but the rating of the quality of the libretto could be an explanation why certain texts in DONNERSTAG were covered with a completely different action, why the director became the author in some way instead of an interpreter. We know that Stockhausen was „approved“ by Hesse to become a poet. For the fair judgement of this, it would be very interesting to publish the early texts of Stockhausen like „Humayun“. Excerpts that I read show that he wrote in a completely different style as compared to later. One could understand better why he chose to write in the manner he did in LICHT.
A joy of this discussion, (these discussions) are moments when aspects of the production are described/analysed more so than the lamentation of omissions! The work is well known, partly known or unknown depending on each audience member, and some will always encounter Donnerstag for the first time no matter how many productions precede or follow. For this reason we must have programs, synopses, lectures, exhibitions, access to recordings and even detailed reviews for all those impatient to know more. To return to my repeated implication, the richness of Donnerstag has to be revealed over time and is not wholly dependent on the 'completeness' of one performance. As long as the beauty there encountered remains in the imagination the undertaking brings the listener back to the work.
As a new contribution I would like to enquire what others thought about the spatial relationship of elements in this staging, and how that affected our experience and our cognition. In Basel, with some vivid projection elements above the actors in most scenes, it was often a matter of choice to focus upon the stage or the images (particularly in Michaels Reise and Vision). Fortunately I knew it would be best to look almost entirely at the actions of triple Michael during the second day's performance of Vision, but was often beguiled by the magnified face of Michael-tenor on the previous night! If we compare performances we can appreciate the major effect of such decisions.. The TV production of Examen (DVD) uses image superimposition and elements are arranged closely in narrowish field of view. With some rearrangement of the sound projection this allows nearly all elements to stay in focus. At Padrissa's production of Michael's Reise some of these overlay elements were possible, making the several layers of activity towards the end of the scene increase in density and minimising the likelihood of much being ignored. In Basel this scene was perhaps the least focussed of all leading me to think that the director felt she had the most freedom to break free of directions where movements were less specifically composed. For music from a different opera, I recall the final scene of Mittwoch in Birmingham. The rotating Bassetsu Trio was sadly, often hidden behind choral delegates in the staging, at ground level (mobile platforms). A method of raising them up high to orbit the singer/Operator was desperately needed in my opinion!
My feeling is that when the vertical visual arrangements are overused it is difficult to associate elements, or even notice them all. in other words the challenge is to hold them in the same field of view. In Donnerstag Stockhausen's layout directions are usually for stage elements to be side by side, and previous opera productions attempted this with more consistency.. Performances in Basel provided this horizontal arrangement in Kindheid and in Vision, but every glance at the surtitles or the additional projections could break the musical lines within those totally synchronised movements. I particularly feel Stockhausen has primarily used vertical movements and the juxtaposition of up and down are reserved for a symbolic relationship of heaven and earth (and memories) in Donnerstag aus Licht. So in this opera the relationship of simultaneous musical elements is best done side by side. As for video overlay, that solution can be ingenious, but so easily leads to the return of an opaqueness that stage arrangement is supposed to clarify. Bernard
It seems that most of us agree that a strictly orthodox attitude should not be the answer to the question what should be allowed on stage and what not. Now, I find it interesting how different the question: „But who decides then what should be allowed?“ is being answered. I have a sympathy for Thomas’s view („YOU decide!“), but I also see Adorján’s point. Practically speaking, I guess for the next future, the Stockhausen Trust will continue to have the power to decide. But that is the legal side of the answer rather than the ethical one. So for me, the question needs to remain unanswered, maybe unanswerable as it will not be able to make up clear distinctions about what in Stockhausen’s instructions needs to be respected letter by letter and what not.
Regarding the question if a„not very excellent“ production is harmful for the reputation oft he work, I tend to agree with Bernhard. A masterpiece will survive even bad misinterpretations (if something like that does actually exist). But I also see Johanna’s and Thomas’ point: when someone „encounters“ Stockhausen fort he first time, a bad production might have the effect that such person will not feel attracted by the work, although she/he might have been attracted by it if the prodction had been better. (Please let me stress: when talking about bad productions, I am not referring to the Basel staging, which I found really amazing, despite my criticism on certain aspects oft he staging). From my perspective, the question which arises from this discussion is: what is better: (a) making no compromises and by doing that, taking the risk that the work will actally not be played at all (like DONNERSTAG in the last 30 years), or (b) taking the risk of „bad“ productions, hoping that not too many people will be repelled?
I see this practically rather than a matter of principle and would therefore vote for answer (b): it is important to stage the operas, to give the people the opprtunity to see it, because music only comes to life when being performed. And let us not engage in window dressing: in some decades, when the copyright protection ends, the questions which we are discussing right now will in parts become obsolete anyhow. We will probably see many more productions – good and bad ones, if we like that or not. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not trying to make a point „everything must be allowed, immediately“. I am just trying to take a glimpse into the future, and this is what I see.
As far as the Basel production is concerned, I have mentioned certain discomforts with the staging earlier, but for me, these points do not make the whole production a bad thing. In fact, I was amazed to be able to finally see it, and I know that others see this similarly. This being said, I think it was a right decision to have this production, despite all doubts regarding the staging which one might have.
I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus.
A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes!