On the same day that the combined forces of the Left were doing violence to the rights of free speech and assembly of the Unite the Right marchers in Charlottesville, VA, their cultural Marxist brethren were at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY doing aesthetic violence to the American premiere of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera The Siege of Calais (1836). While the two incidents are dissimilar, the members of Antifa and most members of the mainstream operatic establishment share the same predilections for ugliness and perversity, anti-white animus, and historical and factual dishonesty and duplicity.
What should have been an event of momentous artistic import—the American premiere of an almost never performed opera by one of the genre’s most important composers—turned out to be an exercise in directorial malfeasance, historical relativism, and left-wing political posturing. While many of the musical performances were of a generally high quality, the staging of the opera, led by director Francesca Zambello and set designer James Noone—was a prime example of what is known formally by the German term Regieoper (director’s opera), a postmodern dramatic aesthetic in which the director is free—indeed, almost obligated—to ignore and alter authorial intentions up to and including the text and even the music.
In Regieoper, the composer and librettist are treated as second-class citizens in their own creative works. It is the director’s Konzept that takes precedence. Needless to say, Regieoper is an entirely left-wing phenomenon that is meant to deconstruct and delegitimize the masterpieces of opera.
The plot of The Siege of Calais is based on an historical event from the Hundred Years’ War, namely, English King Edward III’s blockade of the French port city of Calais in 1346. After a long siege, the French forces sue for peace. Edward agrees to spare the lives of the citizens of Calais, but insists that six Frenchmen of noble birth be selected for execution. Edward’s wife Philippa (changed to Isabella in the opera) intervenes on behalf of the six men slated for execution, and Edward pardons the men.
The plot lends itself to operatic treatment since it deals with the magnanimity of a sovereign ruler, a staple of opera plots going back to the early 17th century. The pathos of the situation in which the citizens of Calais find themselves is ideally suited to the florid and emotional arias that are the most notable feature of bel canto operas.
The events of the opera only make sense within the context of late Medieval Christian civilization, which featured magnanimity towards co-religionists, limited warfare, and acknowledgement of the hierarchical obligations of feudal society, in which fealty to one’s superiors imposed duties to protect one’s inferiors. Noblesse oblige was not an empty phrase. The political complications of the Hundred Years’ War were such that English and French monarchs had legitimate claims on each other’s territory, and many members of the nobility from both sides could not participate in the war since it would entail violating feudal and family obligations. Added to the complexity of the political situation was the fact that the war took place with the Black Plague and a divided papacy festering in the background.
This rich historical context was thrown out by director Francesca Zambello, who decided to set the opera in the current year and that the opera is really about the Jungle, the notorious refugee camp in Calais. Instead of a tragic conflict between two civilized European nations, Zambello turned the opera into a complaint about alleged Western racism. Zambello utilized the first trick in the Regieoper director’s playbook by having the English soldiers wear World War II era German helmets. The English soldiers were also the only characters in the opera that smoked. If the opera had lasted longer, I am sure that the English would have been shown testing cosmetics on rabbits or denying the validity of climate change. The heavy-handed nature of Zambello’s iconography extended even to the flags carried by the English, which emphasized the St. Andrew’s Cross, making them more closely resemble the Stars and Bars than the Union Jack because, as everyone knows, inside every Englishman lurks a Nazi Confederate.
The evil English soldiers were all caucasians, but the inhabitants of the Jungle of Calais were virtuously multicultural to a fault. Cheerful miscegenation abounded in the Jungle, except curiously in the families of the main French characters. Even the left-leaning audiences of opera festivals expect good singing, and there are, after all, only so many affirmative action heldentenors and soubrettes of color.
Of course, the one English character who turned out to be non-white was Edward’s wife, a hefty black mezzo with an uncontrollable vibrato and only a fleeting familiarity with the concept of pitch. It makes no difference to a director like Zambello that the singer—who acted less like an English queen than Madame Queen of Amos ‘n’ Andy fame—was entirely inappropriate for the role. Since the Queen is the catalyst for Edward’s pardoning of the condemned six Frenchmen, it is inconceivable that a leftist director would allow a white singer to perform the role of a character representing forgiveness and charity. The Magic Negro who takes away the sins of the world will always take precedence over vocal quality and dramatic appeal in the perverted aesthetics of Regieoper.
What is even more unsettling is that Francesca Zambello is a rather moderate practitioner of Regieoper. Yet even in the milder form of Regieoper practiced by Zambello, there is an oppressive atmosphere of artistic dishonesty, historical ignorance, and sense of self-righteousness and hubris that is breathtaking in its willingness to transmogrify great works of art in order to score political points and virtue signal.
The artistic vision of Regieoper directors is vulgar and ugly. They do not wish to stage operas; they wish only to deconstruct them. After all, most operas have been composed by white males of European descent and are, therefore, implicitly racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc., etc., by the twisted logic of the Left. Lacking the musical and literary talent to create operas, one wonders if the overt icon smashing of Regieoper directors is rooted in artistic and professional jealousy as well as in the negative aesthetics of postmodernism.
The political Marxists of Charlottesville want to destroy a monument to a great American hero; the cultural Marxists of Cooperstown want to destroy a monument of Western music history. Whether it is an equestrian statue or an opera, the Left cannot abide the achievements of Western civilization, not only because it wants to erase the culture of the white world, but also because the monuments of Western civilization are constant reminders to non-whites of how little they have accomplished when left to their own devices.
White privilege is, in the final analysis, a manifestation of white accomplishments, and with accomplishments come rights and privileges. Robert E. Lee and Gaetano Donizetti earned their places in history. The only thing that will ever be earned by the Marxists of Charlottesville and Cooperstown is our contempt.
 A list of Regieoper characteristics includes but is not limited to: historical anachronisms; brutalist vocal performance style; hyperintensive acting style; profane or inaccurate translations of librettos; arbitrary additions to librettos; added characters; use of mimes when not called for; arbitrary changes in locale; anti-white bias; anti-Western bias; anti-American bias; anti-Christian bias; anti-heteronormativity; anti-capitalism; substitution of rape or sexual assault for romantic scenes; arbitrary gender transposition; arbitrary nudity; gratuitous homosexuality; depiction of nature as polluted; anachronistic use of Nazi symbolism; substitution of incest for happy family relationships; vulgar facial and body gestures, especially those simulating sex and/or masturbation; positive references to Marx, Lenin, Castro, Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Mumia Abu-Jamal, etc.; positive references to Palestinian and Muslim terrorists; gratuitous references to the Holocaust, AIDS, Abu Ghraib, Hiroshima bombing, deliberate avoidance of beauty in stage design and costuming; overuse of expressionist stage design; and exaggerated hairstyles.
The Designated Drinker
The 2021 Fundraiser & this Weekend’s LivestreamQuintilian’s “Reality: The Antidote for Wokefulness”
The Music of Laure LePrunenec
Remembering Jean Raspail (July 5, 1925–June 13, 2020)
Remembering Ludwig van Beethoven (December 17, 1770-March 26, 1827)
Counter-Currents Radio Podcast No. 296 The Summer of 2020
American Gods & Their Shadows
Ivan Zajc’s Nikola Šubić Zrinski