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date: 28 February 2020

Regieoper [Regietheater]free

  • Alexander K. Rothe

Regieoper (German for ‘director’s opera’) refers to experimental or ‘non-literal stagings’ (Calico, 2008) of canonical operas, a tradition that stretches back to Ludwig Sievert, Oskar Hagen’s revivals of Handel operas, and the Otto Klemperer-Ewald Dülberg stagings at the Kroll Opera during the Weimar Republic. Such stagings aim to create new experiences and understandings of the operatic repertory through a process of defamiliarization – often involving visual elements that do not attempt to adhere to the composer or librettist’s stage directions and/or intentions in a literal manner.

Though there is a long history of interpreting Regieoper – and opera performance in general – through the lens of semiotics and hermeneutics, current scholarship focuses on performance as an event, from the performing bodies of the singers to the phenomenological experiences of the audience. Performance studies has been especially helpful for thinking about Regieoper in terms of embodied performance. Along with Michelle Duncan’s consideration of performativity, Melina Esse draws on Philip Auslander’s concept of liveness to show how present-day conceptions of live performance are bound up with media technologies. Performers use cross-dressing, travesty, and transvestitism to subvert rigid gender roles and categories of sexuality. Naomi André provides an insightful rubric for considering opera performance in terms of who is onstage (the role being represented and the performer’s identities), who is telling the story (both the performers and the authorial position), and who is in the audience (the heterogeneity of the audience’s experiences). Lydia Goehr describes how the ‘perfect musical performance’ can make visible and audible those voices and bodies that are frequently made invisible by the ‘perfect performance of music’. Lastly, Alexandra Garaventa adopts the concept of theatricality to relate opera performance to the performance of the self in everyday life and politics.

Though Regieoper has traditionally been more common in Europe, especially in Germany (where state subsidy is generous), this has been changing as experimental stagings of canonical operas become more widespread in the United States, particularly in the independent opera scenes in New York and Los Angeles.

For examples of Regieoper, Robert Wilson’s 2009 staging of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (Act I, ‘Rosa del ciel’) employs a theatre of images referencing Titian’s painting Venus with an Organist and Cupid, while his use of gesture amplifies the contrasting rhetorical style of each character. Another example is Senta’s Ballad, ‘Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an’ (Act 2), as staged in Martin Kušej’s 2010 production of Der fliegende Holländer, which confronts issues of immigration and race in Europe – in keeping with the tendency in Regieoper to engage with current debates in the news and media.


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‘Rosa del ciel’ (14:43–17:57) from L’Orfeo, Act I. Claudio Monteverdi, composer. Concerto Italiano; Rinaldo Alessandrini, director. Sara Mingardo, Georg Nigl, Luigi De Donato, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Roberta Invernizzi and Furio Zanasi. (Opus Arte: 2009). Video.

Ex. 1: [ASP link:]

‘Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an’ (1:03:56–1:12:07) from Der fliegende Holländer, Act II. Richard Wagner, composer. Chorus of the Netherlands Opera (DNO, De Nederlandse Opera, Dutch Opera); Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra; Hartmut Haenchen, conductor; Martin Kušej, director; Catherine Naglestad, et al, soloists. (Opus Arte: 2010). Video.

Ex. 2: []

Cambridge Opera Journal
Opera Quarterly