[Dixielandjazz] Sex & Violence in Music

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 10 07:22:54 PDT 2004

The Opera buffs among us will love this article. The music history buffs
among us will love this article. The sex buffs among us will love this
article. The humor buffs among us will love this article. The
Philistines among us might not,  so delete now if you are a Philistine.

Looks like music has come full circle. Where "Jass" was once the
degenerate music, it now appears that Opera in Calixto Bierto's new
productions are. Shown where else, in Berlin, of course, like Caberet.
Wilkommen Meinen Herren und Dammen. (or something like that)

Hey Wiggins, maybe we should incorporate some "Vomit art" into our
music? ;-) VBG Note, as quoted below, about all this sex and violence:
"But it could also be that shock treatment is just what's needed to jolt
some outmoded art forms back to life."
Wonder if anyone would pay to see us frontally nude, or simulating sex
with the nude fat lady (chick singer)? :-) VBG

Wonder if we could organize a jazz cruise to Hamburg, a trip down the
Reeperbahn, then on to Berlin for the new vomit music edition of
Bierto's Madame Butterfly premiering there in 2005? Hell yes, probably
could fill several ships, trains, planes. Write Wiggins Jazz Cruises off
list if you are interested. Should be a "swinging" event.
Steve Barbone

July 10, 2004 NY TIMES

Definitely Not Your Mother's Mozart Opera


      BERLIN — Usually played for laughs, Mozart's "Abduction From the
Seraglio" is a light opera set around a Turkish palace and harem in
which everyone except the pantomimic bad guy ends up happy. Not so in
Calixto Bieito's new production at the Komische Oper. Here, after scenes
of copulation, fellatio, rape, torture and mutilation, almost everyone
ends up a corpse. "Titus Andronicus" could hardly be bloodier.

The response has been predictable: during every performance, 15 to 20
people walk out noisily, mumbling "scandal" and "disgusting," and every
morning, protest letters — "How could you do this to Mozart?" — land on
the desk of the Komische Oper's general director, Andreas Homoki.
DaimlerChrysler briefly threatened to cancel its annual $24,000 donation
to the opera house. Bild, a German tabloid, fanned the flames: "Vomit
art with taxpayers' money!"

Oh yes, one other thing: the show's seven performances, which end on
Sunday, have all sold out.

Old-fashioned voyeurism? Certainly there is more frontal nudity and
simulated sex onstage here than on many late-night cable channels. But
it could also be that shock treatment is just what's needed to jolt some
outmoded art forms back to life.

German directors are particularly adept at provoking screams of outrage
from audiences and critics. Yet hasn't every radical break with artistic
convention been thought shocking? Mozart was used to hearing his operas
booed. Nijinsky's choreography for Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"
provoked a riot on opening night in Paris in 1913. James Joyce's
"Ulysses" was dismissed as dirty gibberish when it was first published
in 1922.

Over the past five years, Mr. Bieito's "shocking" reworking of opera and
theater classics has won him a cult following — and a good many enemies
— across Europe. Works that have endured his slash-and-burn approach
include the operas "Don Giovanni," "Die Fledermaus," "Il Trovatore" and
"Un Ballo en Maschera," and the plays "Macbeth," "Hamlet" and "King

In interpreting "Seraglio" for our time, Mr. Bieito, a 38-year-old
Catalan director, has transformed Mozart's jolly harem into a
contemporary European brothel filled with enslaved young women (much
like the East Europeans in Berlin's own bordellos) and run by two
vicious pimps. Mozart's Pasha Selim becomes the brothel owner who falls
in love with the captured Konstanze, while Osmin, the crude harem
overseer in "Seraglio," is a sadistic enforcer who rapes and beats the
women at will.

Sex and violence, yes, but they probably constitute a fair description
of life in a modern whorehouse. Mr. Homoki said a Berlin prostitutes'
association was consulted, and some of its members attended rehearsals
and offered suggestions, including one for the horrific scene in which
Osmin murders a woman and cuts off her nipple.

"The original idea was for him to cut off an ear," Mr. Homoki said, "but
the prostitutes said it would be more realistic to cut off a nipple."
(One recent evening, this scene prompted several walkouts.)

As it happens, the libretto for "Seraglio" also has a dark side,
although it is usually overlooked: The Pasha threatens torture if
Konstanze does not return his love, and Osmin anticipates the fate of
those who challenge him: "First beheaded, then hanged, then impaled on
red-hot spikes, then burned, then bound and drowned, finally flayed." So
perhaps it was not that difficult for Mr. Bieito to imagine Osmin as a
seriously nasty guy.

Of course, with sex and violence, the boundaries of the tolerable vary
from region to region. Stanley Kubrick may be considered a genius
moviemaker, but his "Clockwork Orange" was long banned in Britain for
its subversive violence. Catherine Breillat's "live sex" movie "Romance"
was thought less shocking in France than a screen kiss might be in
India. And when Tate Britain displayed Tracey Emin's postcoital bed,
complete with used condoms, empty bottles and dirty underwear, only
London tabloids claimed to be shocked.

Indeed, given the prevalence of sex and violence on television and movie
screens across the West, it is reasonable to assume that "shock fatigue"
has set in. When offered for no greater purpose than titillation and
excitement, sex and violence are often largely meaningless: they disturb
only when they comment on the real — off-screen — world.

Still, in Berlin there was consolation for those who preferred to close
their eyes and listen to the music: the singers were in fine voice,
notably Maria Bengtsson, who, as Konstanze, had to endure being sexually
abused while singing one of her arias. In fact, the singers were exempt
from the yells and boos that accompanied some aspects of the
performance. On opening night, after gunfire decimated most of the cast,
a voice called out from the audience: "Now the director!"

Mr. Homoki conceded that this "Seraglio" may be the most "shocking
thing" ever to appear on a Berlin stage, but he was quick to defend it.
"It is not using shock just for effect, but to tell a story," he said.
"I can't argue against it."

Well, no. He has scheduled eight more performances of "Seraglio" this
fall, and he will open the opera's 2005 season with a new Bieito
production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." Shock, it seems, can also be
good for business.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list