Rethinking Regietheater and the Britain-Continent Divide in Contemporary Opera Staging. British Music & Europe in the Age of Brexit. Duke University. November 3, 2017 - November 4, 2017


In discourse on opera staging, it has become conventional to differentiate between Regietheater (director’s theatre) and more “traditional” productions. There are several problems with this way of carving up the landscape of contemporary opera performance. The term “Regietheater” falsely suggests that it is primarily a German phenomenon. Furthermore, categorization chiefly depends on a production’s “look” not on its sound or interpretation. With a focus on staging in Britain, I propose an alternative way of thinking about the variegated nature of opera performance today, one based on the attitude the performers take towards the work ostensibly being performed. Some productions (e.g., Tim Albery’s Billy Budd, ENO, 1988) arise from similar motivations as performances of classical instrumental music: the performers aim to fulfil (most of) the prescriptions contained within the work’s score and libretto, interpreted in light of their context of creation. Others (e.g., Katharina Thoma’s Ariadne auf Naxos, a.k.a. Carry on Ariadne, Glyndebourne, 2013) are better described by James Hamilton’s (2007) “ingredients model”: scores and libretti are treated less as instructions to be followed than as optional ingredients in a new performance-work. The tendency to bill both types of performances as performances of Britten or Strauss has led to confusion, even outrage, on the part of spectators, who frequently bring the wrong expectations with them when they enter the theatre, and are predictably dissatisfied with what they find there.

Service Performed By


  • November 3, 2017 - November 4, 2017

Service or Event Name

  • British Music & Europe in the Age of Brexit

Host Organization

  • Duke University

Location or Venue

  • Department of Music