An ag(e)ing hacker, Luca Saiu's blog
2022-02-19 15:00 (last update: 2022-05-16 21:55) Luca Saiu

Opernhaus Zürich does not deserve you

Yesterday evening, February 18, E. and I went to the Zürich opera to see Mozart’s Don Giovanni produced by Sebastian Baumgarten1:

We were looking forward to a well-deserved happy night out to celebrate how Switzerland had started to look less like a police state. “Freedom day” was supposed to begin at midnight on the 17th—Except, we discovered, at Opernhaus Zürich: there the gratuitous obtuse oppression continues and the house requires you to keep wearing the stupid face masks if you attend. This surprise ruined my mood and completely destroyed the experience for me.

Opernhaus Zürich is a venue I regret honouring with my attendance: it does not deserve your presence either or your economic support. I encourage everybody to boycott Opernhaus Zürich; at least I will certainly keep these considerations in mind in the future even if this specific situation resolves, and will choose to support almost any business over Opernhaus Zürich.

I do not know how clearly this requirement was stated in advance. The web site does show it clearly now, as of February 19th. At the time when E. bought the tickets right after freedom day’s date was announced she did not notice, so the site might not have been clear at the time. In any case at the end I decided not to complain asking for a refund in order not to spoil the evening for E., and tried to compress my anger and enjoy the show. I could not.

If the law no longer mandates face masks in theatres it is the establishment’s choice to continue doing so: we were told something about “cultural places” which was either a mistake or a lie. I would rather describe this behaviour as the simple choice to exercise the right to be obnoxious in one’s private place. Whether this is sound from the legal point of view in Switzerland became a moot issue the moment I decided, begrudgingly, to accept remaining. From the moral point of view, on the other hand, and in all seriousness, I do support everybody’s2 right to be obnoxious: I will just avoid supporting obnoxious institutions in the future and so should you. Please consider this in the future before enabling obnoxious behaviour from the venue which is supposed to welcome you, in exchange for five hundred francs for two people.

But maybe the “cultural place” justification was not entirely gratuitous, in a different sense. More than about culture the tendency to be more royalist than the king in the zeal to display supposedly conscientious behaviours (always at the price of somebody’s personal liberty) belongs to a certain kind of Left who revels in painting itself as cultured and enlightened, and is too quick to identify itself with the image it intends to project.

a face mask saying “DoublePlusGood” with IngSoc’s emblem from the Nineteen Eighty-four film

My comments about the production itself are few.

Surtitles in German and English made the action easy to follow. I still recommend reading a detailed summary of the plot before attending any opera performance; in this case I had used

Without being music experts both E. and I particularly appreciated the performances of Anita Hartig as Donna Elvira and Evan Hughes as Leporello.

Very intelligent the idea of having Leporello limp, which along with his eyeglasses and Don Giovanni’s grey wig makes it easy to identify each character in the scenes where Don Giovanni and Leporello exchange clothes as a disguise.
Other than the costumes a few obvious anachronisms were introduced such as an automobile pulled by hand (intended to be seen as out of order?) during the peasants’ wedding celebration. I fail to understand why current productions keep insisting on anachronisms; instead of feeling novel and creative they are now a tired idea.

The visuals on the other hand were not boring, occasionally striking and even disturbing, with an intensity I did not expect in a light opera.

The mise en scène included a digital display behind the performers (video design by Chris Kondek), often featuring hands or fingers in the act of counting (scenes, or possibly Don Giovanni’s conquests), sometimes covering a naked body. The hands were shown in very tense positions, scarred from counting notches or bleeding.

Another recurring piece of imagery involved extras (the same also playing the peasants) dressed as cleaning personnel in visually cacophonic pink and blue overalls, sometimes busy scrubbing the floor during the action, ignored by the main characters. The cleaning extras even replaced the demons bringing Don Giovanni to hell.

A few comical inventions: one or maybe two fragments of dialogue spoken in English, off-stage, to the puzzlement of the main characters, as random and genuinely funny absurdist humour; a citation of the Nokia cellphone tune. A plastic inflatable penis on the table scrolling at the very end because, of course, we are cultured and we are the Left. (A piece of unsolicited advice, in case the production still accepts it from somebody who developed a sincere disgust for the entire mainstream Left: ideas like the penis do more to bore than to shock. Even at the opera.)

None of my comments about the production is serious criticism. I would have enjoyed the opera itself and even this production. But the next time, please, keep your 250 francs and let Opernhaus Zürich keep their mask rules.

— Luca Saiu, 2022-02-19 15:00 (last update: 2022-05-16 21:55)

don-giovanni, e, english, freedom, freedom-day, myself, opera, opernhaus-zürich, politics, review, sebastian-baumgarten, switzerland, zürich

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I found a 2013 review of the same production with a different cast, written by somebody more competent than me: The few (factual) details I disagree with have no bearing on my main message here.


But personal freedom as a right applies to individuals and private organisations, not to state institutions.