Djamileh, Bizet's first mature opera, came right before Carmen. Its music is rich, sensual and beautifully orchestrated, totally worth the listening.


Here I am, yet again, deeming with the intricacies of a period of time I particularly love: Paris in the second half of the 19th century. This era has always fascinated me: it’s the time of Rodin and Camille Claudel, of Debussy, Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud. And, of course, the time of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in its catastrophic French debut (160 rehearsals and then some for 3 performances!): this started a querelle between pro-Wagnerian and anti-Wagnerian that would last until after World War I. Georges Bizet came up as the quintessence of anti-wagnerism with his most famous masterpiece, Carmen, endorsed by a Wagnerian of the first hour like Nietzsche, who, as much as was a fan of Wagner in his early years became later one of his most poignant critics.
What captured my attention this time is a rather obscure one-act opera by Bizet: Djamileh. I bumped into it by chance, looking around the web for something totally different.

Carmen has had the merit of making Bizet immortal, but also the flaw of obscuring most of his other works. And yet, Djamileh, written one year ahead of Carmen, was greatly admired by Gustav Mahler, who programmed it and conducted it in Hamburg and Vienna, and, later on, by Richard Strauss, who viewed it as a source of inspiration for his Ariadne auf Naxos. At its first production, though, it was a flop, targeted by the critics as drawing too much from Wagner (quite ironic). The opera disappeared after a handful of performances and is today unknown to large audiences and musicians alike – personally, I had never heard of it till a few days ago.

Bizet himself was aware of the fact that the first production of Djamileh was everything but a success: but not because of the music; too little action and a bunch of so-so singers who barely knew their part, to the point where the soprano skipped some 30 bars in one go. Yet, this first mature opera of Bizet respects all the canons of the time: an exotic country, the rhythm and colors of its music mixed with french tradition, colorful settings and room for a ballet.
Bizet was not much of a traveller, but Djamileh, like most operas of that period takes place in a foreign country: librettists tended to set operas in countries where French economic interests were strong. Like every good artist, he travelled with his imagination: the opera sets the mood right from the start for a fairy tale, in a Cairo palace with backstage choir and smoking water pipes with Bizet overcoming the lack of action in the libretto with evocative music and wonderful orchestration. This is certainly one of those works that would deserve to be revived.

Oh, and for once, I like an opera in which nobody dies!
Here’s a (vocal) score of the opera:

and here‘s a YouTube link:



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The conceptual opera “Audioguide III”, by German composer Johannes Kreidler, ends with the disruption of 66 violins. Does this serve the Kantian philosophical underground of the work?


Wandering around the internet, one can make some quite unexpected encounters. My most recent one has been with German composer Johannes Kreidler. I had never heard of him, despite the fact that he seems to be quite accomplished. What captured my attention was the video of his Music Theatre piece Audioguide III, which you can find here in its entirety:

Now, I confess, it took all my good will and then some to listen to the whole thing, but I honestly wanted to give it a chance to see if the end of the piece was somewhat justified. After all, you don’t get to see that kind of spectacle every day. As the author describes it on his website (, this is a conceptual opera, a collage of the present built on small and large modules, different every time. Infused with philosophical essence, the climax should be a cathartic destruction of 66 violins.

This is where I have a problem: how is it cathartic to demolish a work of art? I’m sure these were inexpensive factory instruments, but even those hold, at their very core, 300 years of expertise, science and craftsmanship. Let’s pretend that this was not a relevant issue; another question I have is: what kind of message is passing on with this piece?

As stated by the composer, emotional forces, trauma and revenge lead to these actions, associating the ravages with a mix of pleasure and pain. One could argue that the history of opera is full of ambiguous models and that, after all, this is just one more to add to the pile. However, Kant, who seems to be a fil rouge throughout the piece, is, in my opinion, distorted to support the composer’s thoughts – or, worse, to justify intellectually a pure spectacle that otherwise could not be backed up by any logic.

The feelings of the beauty, cited by Mr. Kreidler, are for Kant always joyous and smiling. Maybe he is referring to the feelings of the sublime, which can provoke enjoyment but with horror. And this is where he falls short in his association of beauty or sublime and catharsis: given the day-to-day horror show running under our eyes in the news, who could enjoy or take any more of this destruction orgy? Since when violence became cathartic?

Perhaps I am too naive, but destruction only makes me sad or angry, I do not find beauty and certainly not catharsis in it and I surely hope other people do not either.


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Who says opera should only be staged and performed by big opera houses? Small opera companies have the capacity to refuel people’s attention on this art, breaking the rituals and engaging new and old audiences.


Who says opera should only be staged and performed by big opera houses? When it comes to small opera companies there is a certain preconception – coming from a pure comparison of budgets – in looking at them as second rate producers: what the Met or La Scala spend on one production, a small opera company spends on its whole season, hence their shows must be inferior in quality.

This is not quite correct: true, there is quite a number of small companies that disgracefully sell low budget productions of Elektra or Aida by simply cutting off on the number of players or eliminating the choir. But others, with some well planned budgeting and smart choices, are able to put on great productions.
Take the recently defunct Gotham Opera in NYC: the company sunk probably due to some bad management, but the productions they had were far from amateurish.

LoftOpera went head to head with the Met with a production of Barber and they got praised by the New York Times not only for their effort but for the high level of the outcome. Peter Gelb himself had nothing but good words for them. On this side of the ocean, OperaUpClose in London is getting rave reviews for its bold take on classics as well as new works.

In a way, small opera companies have most chances of succeeding than their bigger sisters (look at what happened to New York City Opera), mostly due to the fact that their budgets are more sustainable and they often present niche products, whether they do traditional operas in unusual spaces or less known/contemporary works. Audiences are often attracted by their shows because of the less-formal-feeling and the idea that they are more part of the show instead of just looking at it from a distance.

The real worth of small opera companies is their capacity to refuel people’s attention on this art: they know they have to rethink the concept of traditional opera in order to survive, break the rituals and engage new and old audiences in a time in which it seems to be needed the most. Something the big theaters way too often delegate to weird and unimaginative staging, hoping to create some buzz and sell some more tickets.


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Beginning with a single word, Robert Adams of shares this discussion about the ways in which the arts are woven into our humanity and perception of reality.


I recently became acquainted with the word, “dramaturgy.” The context in which I found the word was an article discussing the teaching of dramatization to music voice students on a path to learning opera singing. The writer argued that by comprehensively studying a whole opera, including musical, historical, compositional, and biographical aspects, and not just of the parts a given singer needs to sing, but of the entire work, the singer would learn to perform not just accurately, but dramatically. The job of a dramaturg, then, would be to assist the singer in this preparation and study.

Intrigued, I began looking into the word further. Dramaturgy is a concept developed by Sociologist Erving Goffman. Essentially, Goffman believed that all of life really is a stage. People are actors on the stage of life, acting out their assigned roles either alone or in collaboration with other people. Other people that are part of our lives are doing the same thing, acting out their roles in life as they interact with us.

This sociological theory, drawn on a metaphor of the theater, has apparently migrated into the theater, where we can now find people employed who hold theDramaturg title of “dramaturg.” There is a professional organization for them, the Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). From their website, I learned that dramaturgs can be involved in virtually every aspect of theater production, including those aspects I normally associate with directors & producers. Among the lengthy list are two that stood out to me, because they at least are directly related to the practicing of one’s art as opposed to seeing to legal matters. These two are “seek and present pathways into the world of the play,” and “explore and present: the world of the play.” The connection to Goffman’s theory now begins to become apparent. The dramaturg is trying to connect the fictionalized drama of the theater play with the real-world drama of the lives of the people who are watching the play and who are all themselves acting in the play of life, which, presumably, they have temporarily taken leave of just long enough to attend the theater (or else every theater play is a play within a play). The playwright, in his role as person in the world, provides an entry point for everyone else to witness part part of the life-play, or in the case of his work, perhaps his life replay in the theater play. In the process, all in the audience become emotionally invested in it, and perhaps influenced by it as they return to their own life plays when the theater play is over.

Opera adds another layer. Whereas theater plays utilize language and acting, opera adds to these music, which transcends the expressive capacity of language, save perhaps for poetry. Music provides a means and an outlet for expressing emotional realities that cannot be accommodated by words alone. If theater plays take life plays off the street and make an author’s life play community property, then music when it is performed, which I will for convenience call the music play, takes the life play and brings it beyond what is possible outside the musical experience. Music is no longer a replay or retelling of real-life drama, it is the imagining of something beyond what can physically exist, beyond what can in reality take place in the life play. When a musician learns to perform dramatically, they are stepping outside themselves, and offering something that is beyond the reach of everyone, and so to which everyone responds in a physical and emotional way that is nearly unique in the physical world, and unquestionably unique when the absence of danger and the enjoyment or even thrill of the experience is considered. There must be, I think, something quite beyond the reach of a dramaturg, once the flow of what music does is active in the performer and on course to all who will hear the music. Bringing a young performer the power of such expression is a noble profession, and if that is what a dramaturg does, then bravo to every one who succeeds. It also comes to my mind that there are a large bastion of people who also bring this musical prowess to fruition: countless music teachers whose great delight is to watch their students take of in flight through the realm of musical expression.


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Buhles Thumbnail 3

This opera “Die Judenbuche” has been composed in 2001/02, based on Annette von Droste-Hülshoff’s famous 19th century romantic novel. It was an order of the Ulmer Theater by its Intendant Ansgar Haag, and premiered in 2003 in a chamber version in the “Podium” of the city of Ulm’s theatre. Thomas Mandl conducted a chamber orchestra of the Ulm Philharmonics, the production was directed by Alexander Kangan in the design of Gerrit Schulze Uphoff and Sybille Gänßlen-Zeit, the light was designed by Peter Perkovac. The main roles were played by Thomas Kuckler, Ks. Martha Dewal, Eva Zettl, Ks. Norbert Burger, Thomas Schön, Ulla Willick (speaking voice). The reviews of the production in newspapers, magazines and radio were favourable, most of ten perfromances were sold out. A new production of “Die Judenbuche” is projected in Luzern, Switzerland. This video contains the ouverture, the “Sturmmusik I” and the first two scenes. The video has been made by Ralf Zwiebler (camera). The copyright for the work is in the hands of Guenter Buhles (see profile!) who can also supply the material for further productions.