Wotan with a Briefcase

Elke Heidenreich is Germany’s literary Popette, reigning at the right hand of octogenarian Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the (Jewish) pope. Together, they tell Germans what to read, nudging the lowbrows into picking up a book in the first place, and nudging the middlebrows into reading something ambitious, like Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

Heidenreich presides over a literary mini-empire which includes a show called "Read!" (G), and a series of audiobooks featuring female authors. Here, Elke visits the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in England and discovers that opera can be amusing and thrilling, as she writes in Opera without Angst, courtesy of Sign and Sight.

After getting used to Germany’s often brutally confrontational and acidly political opera stagings (Wotan, King of the Gods, for instance, wandering about with an ordinary briefcase to illustrate something-or-other about bourgeois conformity), Heidenreich wonders what’s wrong with her people:

The Italians – recently at the Verdi festival in Parma – let it out. The English do too, as I have now seen. Only in Germany does the half-cultured intellectual sit in his chair, his mouth pursed, fearing abandon: he might make a fool of himself. I spent an entire evening disputing [composer Marc-Aurel] Floros’ theory that Germans can’t do it, they don’t have the elegant levity, but now I lay down my weapon: he’s right. This Glyndebournian Handel, bubbling with life, would not be possible in Germany. We would wrinkle our noses and demand the seriousness that Schopenhauer, Kant, and the disastrous Adorno condemned art to. In Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, it’s engraved in the wall: "Res severa verum gaudium" – true joy is a serious thing! Bestowed.

The article then becomes a manifesto:

We have to make our audiences love opera again. The old has to be preserved, the new has to be introduced with care. No shallowness, beware, no comfortable reposing; it has to be demanding, but with lust, love, passion. Without interpretive rage and dissection. Without the need to be more shocking. Not that it should be over-harmonised, but we’ve already suffered through enough nakedness, blood, sperm and Nazi boots on the German stage. In Glyndebourne, we can see how others are doing it. Understand what a gift we have in opera. Thousands of people listen in darkness to a single human voice, they are moved and thus connected to each other.

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