Friday, February 28, 2020

An Uncharacteristically Topical Post on the Metropolitan Opera's Latest Production of Alban Berg's Wozzeck

Despite its title this post is in many and perhaps even in most respects essentially a sequel to one penned nearly six years ago, Lululations,” inasmuch as it is likewise a polemic directed against the production of a Berg opera, in this case the Metropolitan Opera’s current one of Wozzeck, as seen and heard by the present writer on Saturday, January 12, 2020 at the Charles Theater here in Baltimore via live transmission; but inasmuch as Wozzeck is in many (and perhaps even most) respects a very different sort of opera than Lulu, the Metropolitan Opera in some (although undoubtedly not most) respects a very different sort of institution than the Salzburg Festival, and 2020 in some (although undoubtedly not enough) respects a very different sort of year than 2014, the title really must stand.  Last and penultimate present post-differentiating things first: what this new Met presentation of Wozzeck most eye-burstingly suggests is that in its treatment of productions the Met has recently adopted (or more than likely merely slid into) an ethos that is in some (albeit not all) respects stridently at odds with the classic Met’s meta-productional ethos.—viz., an ethos alternating with Eveready bunny-esque reliability between an attitude of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and one of  “If it ain’t going to be reused at least every other year, don’t bovver over-building it.”  Certainly as recently as 2010, and very probably as recently as 2017, one could count on the Met to deliver an opera under the auspices of one of exactly two styles of production—an opulently old-school neo-verist style and a middle-school minimalist style.  In either case, the production could be counted on neither to contribute to nor to detract from the quality of the performance very materially.  In this respect the Met differed at least intermittently from the Salzburg Festival, which despite its ever-close affiliation with the local Mozartkugeln-propagating heritage industry has always been obliged to give at least an occasional dramaturgical nod to its at least aspirantly transgressive modernist roots; such that an objectionably licentious Salzburg Lulu production such as the one I decried nearly ten years ago was for all its objectionability hardly an out-of-left-field dramaturgical curve-ball.  Accordingly, the present Met presentation of Wozzeck, in being at least twice as objectionable as the Salzburg one of Lulu, hit the present writer in the goolies like a googly bowled from the return crease.  Indeed, now that I have seen this Met presentation of Wozzeck, my objections to that older Salzburg presentation of Lulu have come to seem downright nitpicking.  For at bottom, all these objections were directed at mere tactical misplacements of dramaturgical emphasis eventuating at worst in a misapprehension of the opera’s tone, of its attitude towards its theme, misplacements that could not even ever-so-slightly occlude or distort the spectator-cum-listener’s comprehension the theme itself—viz., that human sexuality is a fundamentally destructive force impervious to moralization of any kind in any register.  For example, my chastisement of Lulu’s throwing of her knickers to a manservant and this servant’s immediately subsequent sniffing thereof, an episode of throwing-cum-sniffing nowhere indicated in the libretto’s stage-directions, was occasioned by the entirely farcical tone of the episode, by its distinctly anti-Bergian Carry On film-esque intimation that the ineluctability of sexual obsession was fundamentally ridiculous rather than fundamentally horrifying.  But this episode for all its risibility did nothing to undermine the centrality of the theme, to undermine the implied assertion that whether under the dramaturgical auspices of tragedy, farce, comedy of manners or grand guignol, sexuality must be regarded as a might(il)y devastating nachon; indeed, the episode fairly underscored that centrality, which is why I am almost inclined retrospectively to tip my hat to it (as well as, incidentally, to the Carry On franchise, for all its reliable unwatchability on account of its consistently ultra-lazy treatment of its source material, an ultra-laziness that makes Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part One look like a Ken Burns documentary).  The faults to which I objected in the Salzburg production’s treatment of the final scene likewise performed no fatally deleterious theme-decentralizing work.  To be sure, in libretto-defyingly leaving Jack the Ripper onstage at the conclusion it did rather give the decidedly wrong impression that one was to be more interested in him than in his principal victim, but it did not leave anyone in doubt about the motive of his crime; it did not lead one to believe that he had killed Lulu for any other reason than that she was a beautiful woman.  To be sure, in that Salzburg production there was exactly one potentially fatally theme-decentralizing episode, the Act II-concluding episode dramatizing the foreplay to Alwa’s presumptive inaugural act of coition with Lulu, an episode whereby it was erroneously intimated, via a libretto-unheeding bit of stage business (i.e., a bit of stage business that in contrast to the retention of Jack was simply unindicated by the libretto rather than proscribed altogether thereby) that Alwa’s obsession with Lulu was but a stalking horse for his obsession with writing the perfect opera.  But this episode mercifully never came into its fatally theme-decentralizing own because its upshot went mercifully unechoed by any of the production’s treatment of Alwa vis-à-vis Lulu in earlier or subsequent scenes, wherein he was faithfully portrayed as a man utterly in thrall to an exclusively erotic obsession with the opera’s eponym.  And to be sure, the dopey interruption of the toast scene at the beginning of the third act by bits of fourth wall-breaking horseplay with the audience was inexcusably gratuitous.  But meta-dramaturgically speaking, it could not be described as fatal, inasmuch as it was probably accurately regarded as a genuine interruption (as opposed to a written-in interruption) even by those members of the audience unfamiliar with the opera, who in any case presumably could be counted on to reabsorb themselves into the diagesis after the conclusion of this interruption.  And to be surest if in hindsight least significantly, the misrepresentation of the painter’s portrait of Lulu as a gigantic semi-abstract mural did indeed make semantic mincemeat of every remark made apropos of it by the dramatis personae.  But ultimately not even the most egregious of these licentious meta-dramaturgical interventions detracted from the audience’s sense of what Lulu was about—viz., the rise and fall of an erotically irresistible woman.  The Met’s latest production of Wozzeck in horrifying contrast consists of almost nothing but episodes intended to deprive the audience of any sense whatsoever of what it, Wozzeck, is about and to drown it, the audience, in a welter of semiotic bilge (yes, yes, yes—and thus to drown it, the audience, even more effectively than the protagonist is literally drowned in the penultimate scene).  The principal conduit of this bilge-welter is the transposal of the opera’s setting from its de facto one of just about any garrison town in any part of pre-unified Germany to the trenches of the Western Front in World War I.  To the transposition itself one is reflexively inclined to exclaim à la the opera’s captain, Schon gut, schon gut!, for after all, Wozzeck was composed during the Great War war and moreover while Berg was in military service and moreover being bossed about in a manner that made him feel a more-than-brotherly sense of solidarity with Wozzeck (although it should be mentioned that this about-bossing was taking place in the relative comfort and safety of an office sited hundreds of miles from the Front, such that the original de facto-peacetime setting more effectively captures the gratuitousness of Wozzeck’s about-bossing, the sense that his about-bossing is not being occasioned by any imminent threat to life or limb, that it is, rather, a manifestation of the Authoritarian Personality fostered by the military modus vivendi tout court).  But any conscientious effectuation of such a transposition must reconcile the new setting with the libretto-cum-score in such a way that none of the anachronisms detract from the basic gist or import of any of that libretto-cum-score’s significant gestures; it must somehow convey the sense that whatever is happening could have happened either in the original setting or in the new one but not necessarily anywhere or anywhen else.  Such a reconciliation is admittedly deucedly difficult to pull off, and at the moment only one such successful off-pulling occurs to me, this off-pulling being Michael Haneke’s 1997 cinematic adaptation of Kafka’s Castle, in which, for example, each member of the cast is attired in a manner that would not have been seen as old-fashioned or excessively formal during the microepoch of the making of the film and yet the only visible piece of technology not available in Kafka’s lifetime is a single transistor radio allowed to relay its historically unspecifiable bit of broadcastage for a mere handful of seconds.  This Met production of Wozzeck by unsalutary contrast seems from start to finish to wish to give the impression that the events of the opera could have taken place between 1914 and 1918 and not a year earlier or later.  And I do really mean from start to finish in a pedantically exact sense because the striking-up of the orchestra in performance of the opera’s Falstaff-esque ultra-brief overture is perfectly synchronized with the title character’s switching-on of a silent film projector whose projected images then bathe the erect and about-strutting form of the Captain as he delivers his opening mule driver-esque adjuration Langsam, Wozzeck, langsam!  I shall address the content of the images projected by this projector anon, but first I must mention that the very inaugural appointment and positioning of Wozzeck as a film-projectionist opposite an erect and about-strutting captain necessitates the complete disregard of a stage-direction that governs the entire dramaturgical essence of the first scene and consequently establishes the central dramaturgical power dynamic of the entire opera—namely the direction that as the curtain rises Wozzeck is to be seen shaving the captain, a direction that of course most obviously requires Wozzeck to perform a task that is by its very nature servile but even more signally places the captain in a position in which his very life is more than figuratively in Wozzeck’s hands: Wozzeck could slash the captain’s throat at any moment; the captain cannot seem to open his mouth without ridiculing or abusing Wozzeck; after a very few minutes of such treatment, a certain sort of manservant, perhaps, indeed, the most usual sort, would leave off shaving the captain long enough to remind him in no uncertain terms of his life-and-death power over him; Wozzeck, in contrast, simply keeps shaving and rejoins Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann, to each of the captain’s utterances, as if he were seconding them—until, that is, the captain takes it upon himself to impugn Wozzeck’s siring of a child out of wedlock, whereupon Wozzeck leaves off shaving to deliver an impassioned defense, not of himself, but of his child qua entirely worthy receiver of eternal salvation despite his bastardy.  Here the captain palpably registers alarm at his corporeal vulnerability to Wozzeck.  There is clearly something very wrong, something very badly out of balance, here, something that will eventually need to be put to rights.  And of course it eventually is in a perverse and horrifying fashion—which is to say via Wozzeck’s murdering of his common-law wife Marie, of the only other adult whose life is so literally in his hands, and not so much because she has cuckolded him as because in the military hierarchy the agent of the cuckoldry, the drum-major, is both superior to him and subordinate to the captain.  So, I say, the opening scene of the opera as properly presented with the captain being shaved by Wozzeck implies with more-than-figuratively trenchant eloquence.  As for the opening scene as presented in this latest Met production, on the other hand—well, sure, it’s still evident enough that the captain is a domineering bully, that Wozzeck is an armer Kerl, a poor wretched fellow, but the bullying is of a purely verbal character, and all sense of impending so-called pushback from this armer Kerl is absent.  Now to the content of the projected film segments (which, incidentally, are not confined to the screen aimed at by Wozzeck the projectionist, as there are also two much larger screens situated at upstage left and right; needless to say, these two larger screens would seem to be completely otiose in diagetical terms, which is to say that they would seem to have no presence of any kind even in the misrepresentation of the opera’s world imagined by the production, which is to say a version thereof in which Wozzeck’s principal duty is to project movies for his captain rather than to shave him): they consist prevailingly of still images of WWI soldiers grotesquely disfigured by their war wounds, the sorts of images made world-famous by the paintings of Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, and presumably a goodly chunk of the segments was taken from the works of those very artists.  The substantial remainder of this content would seem to consist of moving footage especially shot for the production—a seeming fact that at first blush gives the lie to the pan-bienpensant-Anglospheric idée reçue that Kulturkraftwerke like the Met have been getting inexorably poorer year by year over the past half-century, inasmuch as, as I mentioned in “Lululations,” the Met of 1980 couldn’t even manage to produce a proper movie for the cinematic interlude of Lulu.  This footage consists prevailingly or perhaps overwhelmingly of sequences incorporating black people—or at least people presented as black (for there is one particularly disturbing sequence centering on some sort of platoon of black soldiers conspicuously pale immediately about the eyes [presumably this was an implicitly condemnatory allusion to some supposedly white supremacist visual tract like Birth of a Nation {which the present writer has never seen and plans never to see}, in which case I would strongly caution the producers against including this footage in future presentations of their production, inasmuch as in the current pseudo-political climate one simply cannot win with any sort of presentation of blackface]) in sub-diagetic juxtaposition with presumably white people whose faces are concealed by gas masks.  Presumably (this really is my favorite adverb, isn’t it?) the juxtaposition is meant to underscore some supposed connection of the prosecution of the Great War with the prosecution of Africa-oppressing European colonialism and North American Jim Crow-ism, a connection that is presumably worth drawing in a certain sense or context but whose applicability to Wozzeck eo ipso is much more and worse than questionable, inasmuch as the connection of the opera’s diagesis to the Great War is entirely of the producers’ making, and from the applicability of certain sub-states of affairs of one historical period to another historical period it eye-burstingly obviously does not follow that every other sub-state of affairs of that historical period is ascribable to the other.  For farthest-fetched and therefore most eloquent example: in dramaturgically presenting the fifteenth-century discovery of the so-called New World as a reenactment of the Apollo moon landing(s), one would be well within one’s rights to require Columbus and his crew to quaff tankards of Tang, because Tang was after all what the Apollo astronauts quaffed throughout their trip to the moon, but one would be well without those selfsame rights to back-project a television advertisement for Tang  behind the quaffage inasmuch as such a projection would give the highly misleading impression that Columbus, &co. gave a twentieth century-style toss about the brand name of whatever they happened to be drinking en route to the so-called New World.  Now if some would-be producer of Wozzeck wished to situate the opera in a meta-oppressive context that could actually be extrapolated from the opera itself, he or she might profitably turn to the institution of serfdom, which was abolished throughout central Europe only as late as the 1840s—in other words, about a decade after Büchner’s writing of the play on which the libretto of Wozzeck is based.  Presumably (!) a non-duplicitous allusion to this institution could be made even in a production primarily diagetically set in the First World War; as to how it could thereby be included, why, that for the present beats the carp out of the present writer, although the present writer flatters himself that despite his CVs’ utter bareness of reference to the dramaturgical preparation of operas he could contrive a serviceable enough answer to this question if he were afforded the hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars that were presumably vouchsafed to the Met’s production team this time round.   But to get back to the inclusion of all the cinematic screenage qua cinematic screenage: it presumably (!) is there to highlight the more or less exact coincidence of the outbreak of the First World War with the explosion of the popularity of movies and to intimate that this coincidence was much more than a mere coincidence, that there is some causal link between the one event and the other, an intimation that is presumably (!) worth intimating (although as to how etc.).  But any such intimation by all rights must take into account the fact that Berg himself was a witness to-cum-participant in the coincidence, and that indeed he developed quite a well-thought-out dramaturgical modus operandi for registering the recent sudden Lebenswelt-transforming supervention of cinema in the presentation of his operas.  The abovementioned silent movie desiderated by Lulu is the most obvious manifestation of this MO; a more obscure manifestation thereof is his hope, imparted to his pupil Theodor W. Adorno, of having Wozzeck adapted for the screen in a manner whose-fine grained sensitivity to stage action in real time was never even approximated vis-à-vis any opera by any composer until the advent of the multi-camera video-recording of performances for television broadcast in the late 1960s. But ultimately the most salient manifestation of Berg’s awareness of the new power of cinema is his apportionment of Wozzeck into a succession of fairly-to-extremely brief scenes, the longest of which, the tavern scene in Act II, is still just short enough at ten minutes to occupy a single reel of film.  (Admittedly the fragmentary structure of Büchner’s play invites such an apportionment, but it required a cinematically orientated mind such as Berg’s to realize that this structure could be accommodated in dramaturgically intelligible and compelling terms, that it did not have to be digested into the usual five-to-seven scene presentation that makes even such masterly adaptations as Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff seem so un-Shakespearean in their sluggardly pacing.)  And that Berg conceived of these scenes as scenes in the fullest dramaturgical sense—i.e., as requiring some sort of stage-setup that distinguished them from their immediate predecessors and successors--can readily be gleaned from his scrupulous inclusion of an instrumental interlude between each pair of scenes, an interlude that was and is in each and every case just long enough to accommodate the lifting of two or three side-flats and the depositing of one or two backdrops.  Accordingly any presentation of Wozzeck that even aspires to be worth its salt must obscure the stage during these interludes and at their conclusions re-enlighten the stage to reveal a mise-en-scène at least minimally visually distinct from the preceding scene.  The Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck by disastrous contrast refuses to obscure the stage at any point, and indeed, it seems positively and cheekily to revel in its repudiation of such dramaturgical enlightenment by leaving the entire set, one extending to multistory heights, exposed to view from beginning to end.  And not only is this set agoraphobically overexposed, it is also entirely unintelligible, consisting of a snakes and ladders-like network of poorly illuminated gangways that just might be intended to represent the parapets of trenches on the front line but that actually evokes nothing so vividly as the boardwalk of a so-called nature trail in a swampy national park.  At scarcely any point is there any sense that the action is moving from one sort of place to another as indicated in the libretto—from an officer’s apartment to a field to an enlisted soldier’s apartment to doctor’s surgery, etc.  To be sure (in the interest of full disclosure), perhaps the present writer’s favorite production of a Berg opera, Graham Vick’s of Lulu for the 1996 Glyndebourne Festival, was even more minimalist, with no scenery whatsoever and hardly any props.  But Lulu’s libretto, being based as it is on a pair of finished plays written by a professional playwright for a version of live theater at its technical apex, rather than by a quasi-amateur poet for a German stage still in its infancy, is a dramaturgically much more finely wrought affair than Wozzeck’s; its dialogue is chockful of descriptive cues evidently designed to compensate for productional shortcomings—such cues as Schigolch’s praising of the wall-hangings and plush carpet of the painter’s house, and Lulu’s exhortation to tidy up the studio rather than a mere room in the opening scene.  Vick’s was the first production of Lulu I ever saw in its entirety, and yet thanks to these cues, at few if any points during my initial spectation of it did I have any trouble figuring out in what sort or genre of space the current scene was being enacted.  Thankfully, I was not obliged to spectate on this new Met Wozzeck in a state of comparable innocence, as I was already casually to intimately familiar with several fully staged productions; if I had been so obliged, I cannot imagine how I would have been able to make head or tail of where anything was supposed to be taking place; by default I suppose I would have assumed everything to be taking place in so-called no-man’s land, in one of the stretches of open ground between the trenches, although I assume I would have been hard-pressed to account for the presence of a civilian woman (i.e., Marie) and her infant child in such an environment, let alone for the un-machine gunned survival of a half-dozen noisy soldiers therein during the scene that the libretto directs to be set in a tavern.  But by far the most perniciously licentious of the production-team’s liberties is one not of staging but rather of casting, or rather non-casting, namely their complete omission of Wozzeck and Marie’s child from the embodied dramatis personae.  By this I do not mean the excision of all parts of the libretto and score pertaining to the child—a move that for all its prima facie greater drasticity could conceivably have led to a less reprehensible outcome than the one actually achieved—but rather the exclusion from the stage of an actor portraying the child as a self-contained flesh-and-blood human being on par with Marie and Wozzeck in this regard.  To be sure-stroke-don’t get me wrong, casting this role appropriately cannot but be a whale of a Hündin. Wozzeck’s and Marie’s handful of references to the child as a Bub, i.e., a boy, specify the sex of the child; his age is not specified in any fashion by either Büchner or Berg, but because in the final scene he is seen to be both old enough to ride a hobby-horse and young enough not yet to understand what it means for his mother to be dead, one may infer that he is between the ages of about three and five and hence at that life-stage at which a child is both too old to be confined to a crib and too young to be bribed into doing an adult’s bidding via even a more-than-figurative mountain of sweets or so-called action figures—in short when he or she is a stage-director’s worst nightmare not even barring a horse with an irritable bowel.  Granted, the kid’s is an entirely mute role until the concluding scene, when he has only to sing the pseudo-word Hopp-hopp exactly six times, but for all that the temptation to fill this three-to-five-year-old-child-shaped space with someone or something other than an actual three-to-five-year-old child cannot but be a very strong one; and the tradition-sanctified tendency to hand those six Hopp-hopps over to an offstage soprano (as in the otherwise punctiliously score-cum-libretto-respecting Vienna State Opera production of 1987) cannot but make the temptation all but ineluctable.  Howbeit, I must strenuously insist that this temptation must be strenuously resisted inasmuch as the opera’s meta-thematic upshot, its so-called communication of its so-called message, hinges on the recurring presence of the child, and that it is impossible to cast an even very slightly older person as a three-to-five-year old without generating an instance of travesty or pantomime as outrageously un-Wozzeckian as that of the cigar-chomping cartoon baby of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  Now that I have thus perforce strenuously insisted, the reader naturally expects me to go on to reveal that in this Met presentation the child was played by a hookah-huffing nonagenarian dude with a ground-skirting white beard, but what I am actually going to reveal is something quite different and yet far more horrifying, and something that I can reveal only by way of an account of my own assimilation of the presentation’s presentation of the first appearance of the child, wherein the addressee of Marie’s first words thereunto is shown (at least by the camera; obviously viewers-cum-listeners at Lincoln Center did not have their line of sight so guided) to be a lad aged at least twenty and possibly as old as twenty-nine.  And so, after an initial frisson of horror, I gloomily resigned myself to having the child presented to me as a teenager as played by a post-teen actor à la Michael J. Fox’s characters in Family Ties and the Back to the Future movies.  But no sooner did I or had I tendered this gloomy resignation, than the camera pulled back to show that the younker was moving about a pair or trio of sticks connected to some sort of vaguely baby-shaped-and-sized mannequin with a head completely enclosed in (guess what?) a gas mask.  Whereupon I naturally experienced a second and more intense frisson of horror, but to my credit qua meta-polemical non-ambulance chaser, I also tried to recuperate the presentation in a manner that would not make utter mincemeat tartar of the abovementioned meta-thematic upshot: OK, I said to meself whilst breathing as slowly and deeply as I could manage, let’s say the kid is supposed to be a teen traumatized by the horrors of the war and regressively acting out his traumatization via a baby-sized puppet.  I can deal with that, at least between now and the final scene, wherein the child’s incomprehension-cum-hobbyhorsicality will be utterly unconvincing because utterly unverisimilitudinous.  But alas!  Even this wretched meta-diagetic pis aller was made mincemeat tartar of long before the final scene, and indeed in the immediately subsequent child-including scene, wherein the baby- puppet was manipulated by a manifestly different person, a young woman.  When I happened to notice that this young woman had a red cross on one of her sleeves, I could not forbear concluding that she was a nurse and consequently immediately revising my sense of the diagetic function of the puppet: presumably, I reflected, in this diagesis there is no biologically current child; presumably in this diagesis Marie is in a hospital (a hospital at which the young fellow in the previous child-including scene is also a nurse whose red cross I failed to notice), and is mentally disturbed in such a way and thanks to such a cause (perchance a shellshock-induced miscarriage) that interacting with an artificial baby is understood to be therapeutic for her.  But I immediately thereupon reflected that such a meta-diagetic exegesis was pretty much untenable in the light of the first scene of the opera, wherein, as mentioned before, both Wozzeck and the Captain refer to the perduring biological existence of the child, such that if the child must be regarded as merely an hallucination it must perforce be highly improbably further regarded as a collective or Gestalt hallucination (the highly is to be ascribed to the ineluctable participation in the hallucination of the Captain, who is at no point remotely imaginable, even in this presentation, as a reformed Scrooge to the miscarried child’s Tiny Tim).  Howbeit, I managed to cast one last saving throw in favor of this presentation’s diagesis: what if, I conjectured, the child, although very much extra-uterally alive at some earlier point in the diagesis was dead by the opening scene of the opera—dead, that is, to the obvious knowledge of Wozzeck and Marie yet quite plausibly unbeknownst to the captain.  In the context of such a diagesis, Wozzeck and Marie might quite plausibly for various motives go on continuing as though the child were still alive, and indeed, at times they might even be persuaded that he actually was still alive.  To be sure, this last saving throw of a meta-exagetic diagesis left the child-centered final scene diagetically un-accounted for, but perhaps, I reflected at numerous times throughout roughly the second three-fifths of the presentation, the show-runners had somehow managed to account for it.  But no suchluck: in the final scene yet another puppeteer was seen solitarily manipulating the baby-puppet to the accompaniment of a succession of disembodied voices comprising not only the boy-child’s Hopp-hopp! but also all the other children’s registrations of the death of his mother.  Try as I might then, while spectating on the scene, and try as I have mighted in the three weeks since, I have been unable to produce a single even vaguely meta-diagetically compelling interpretation of this presentation of the final scene.  If, after all, the point of the puppet’s existence was to console Marie for the death of her child, what point could there be in continuing to operate the puppet after Marie’s death?  Moreover, if the child was either deceased or ever-non-existent, what function could the voices of the other children possibly be serving? In the highly improbable event that they have ever been queried about this meta-diagetic conundrum, I suppose the show-runners have mealy-mouthedly yet brazenly stated something to the utterly bullshittic effect that in the concluding scene the baby-puppet, the puppeteer, and the disembodied children’s voices collectively symbolize both the instigators and the survivors of the First World War, or better yet both the instigators and the survivors of every war that has ever occurred in human history-cum-prehistory.  Whatever it is meant to symbolize, this symbolization is manifestly irreconcilable with the dramaturgical structure of Wozzeck as it presents itself on the page quite irrespective of the composer-cum-librettist’s intentions.  Wozzeck is manifestly and ineluctably an opera about a real soldier with a real common law wife and a real very young son; each and every presentation of the opera must take this manifest and ineluctable philological fact as its starting point, and each and every presentation that refuses to do so as the latest Met’s refuses to do so is doomed to present not Wozzeck but a kind of live-action music video with the score of Wozzeck as its utterly contingent soundtrack.  Not that this soundtrack need in consequence suffer a jot as a purely aural presentation of Wozzeck, and indeed to the extent that I could avoid being distracted by the visuals, I found the soundtrack of the Met’s new ostensible Wozzeck to be among the most beautifully sung and played Wozzecks that I had ever heard.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that to the limited extent to which the cast were able to circumvent or sidestep the irrelevancies of the mise en scène, they put on quite a visually compelling performance and that hence I found their contribution to the presentation to be among the most beautifully acted Wozzecks that I had ever seen.  Peter Matei’s interpretation of the title character was certainly an improvement on that of the reigning Wozzeck of a generation ago, Franz Grundheber, who tended to look merely sluggishly bemused rather than kinetically harried (verhetzt, as the Captain describes him in the opening scene) as Matei does with appropriately slowly rising intensity; here, in a portrayal evidently meant to underscore his resemblance to the Drum Major qua destroyer of Wozzeck, the Captain as played and sung by Gerhard Siegel uncharacteristically yet persuasively cut a fairly commanding figure despite his character-defining cowardice; here Marie, as played and sung by Elza van den Heever, was adequately plebbish without being gratuitously whorish (although I’m not sure her voice has quite enough bottom for the part’s tessitura, as in the higher registers she did tend rather to slip into the cartoon mouse-like timbre that I have decried in Evelyn Lear’s Lulu); here the Doctor despite his character-defining lugubriousness had a winning almost- Groucho Marx-at-a-Day at the Races-esque animated zaniness about him.  Even vis-à-vis such a minor character as Margret (I own that Andrew Staples’s portrayal of the slightly less minor character of Andres made no impression on me whatsoever) some pains had evidently been taken by somebody to present her in a new but not completely perverse light: in both the tavern scenes she was seen holding a broom, which of course suggested that she occupied the ultra-menial position of a cleaning-woman; i.e., a position even lowlier than Wozzeck’s, which in turn helped to explain, as perhaps no earlier presentation of the opera has attempted to do, why Wozzeck was conjugally paired with Marie rather than with Margret to begin with and why he finds it entirely natural to turn to Margret for conjugal succor after Marie’s death—and also, persuasively enough, why in this presentation Margret rebuffed his advances outright, apparently regarding them as an assertion of a plebeian analogue to droit de signeur (shades of Figaro, natch), rather than at least provisionally yielding to them by deigning to dance with him in conformity with the established performance history.  All the immediately preceding plainly indicates that I am not opposed to innovative mises en scène eis ipsis, that indeed I welcome any presentation of an opera that shews it in a new light provided that this new light does not work at refractive cross-purposes with the letter of the score-cum-libretto, that I believe that anything that is not expressly forbidden by the score-cum-libretto and that does not preclude the conveyance of the just-mentioned letter should be permitted.  And in a score-cum-libretto as schematically stage-directed as that of Wozzeck the scope for such innovation is quite latitudinous—and not only latitudinous but also perhaps dramaturgically exigent, for as Dr. Johnson averred vis-à-vis the presentation of the works of a playwright whose authenticated stage directions (directions not to be confused with the interpolated ones of his earliest editors, most of which were silently assimilated to later editions and thence into the dramaturgical tradition) were to say the least extremely spotty, namely Shakespeare, so-called stage business, for all its manifest peripherality to the conveyance of the gist of a drama on paper, is apparently indispensable to the conveyance of that selfsame gist in a theater. So in the BBC’s early-1960s presentation of Richard III, Lord Hastings is seen shaving his own beard with a straight razor at the exact moment at which he is being asked to entertain the notion of elevating Richard Duke of Gloucester to the throne, and he still has the cutting edge of the knife poised against his own throat (such that, yes, yes, yes he is both his own Captain and his own Wozzeck) when he eventually declares that he would rather have his head separated from the rest of his body rather than accept Richard as the legitimate king.  Naturally here the shaving-centered stage business has been interpolated into the mise en scène by way of anticipating Hastings’s beheading a few scenes later.  It can of course be compellingly argued that such stark foreshadowing is more than a bit heavy-handed, but under our post-Johnsonian dramaturgical dispensation the submitter of such an argument cannot get away with simply leaving Hastings to twiddle his thumbs at most during this scene; he must come up with something else for Hastings to do while he is rebutting the proposal of Richard’s coronation; something as diagetically plausible as, yet less semiotically loaded than, shaving.  The Met’s present presentation of Wozzeck contains a paragon of such unobtrusive stage business in the penultimate scene, wherein the Captain and the Doctor are walking along the river (not, to be doubly sure, that it looks anything like a river in this presentation) just after Wozzeck has disappeared beneath its surface, and they are both trying to ascertain if they have been hearing somebody drowning, towards which end the doctor, still clad in his surgery-attire, quite naturally raises the funnel of his stethoscope as a hearing aid. (Incidentally, the fact that the Doctor is equipped with such a crude, Beethoven ear trumpet-esque, auscultational apparatus when by the First World War doctors had long since been using stethoscopes more or less exactly identical to the ones they are using now suggests that the show-runners themselves felt at least slightly straitjacketed by the WWI setting.)  If only all this presentation’s interpolations had been so singularly felicitous, this might have been the best presentation of Wozzeck ever.  But doubtless if the show-runners of this presentation had confined themselves to such interpolations, they would have found their work unrecognized, and consequently themselves out of a job.  Whence the entire bullshittic apparatus of the trenches, the film projector, the woke-orientated films, etc.  And whence further the non-gratuitousness of the present post vis-à-vis “Lulullations,” which still naively treated the fully staged live presentation of operas as though it could be reformed en bloc, as though the shit-together-getting of all parties concerned could lead to a coherent and faithful fully staged presentation of a given opera.  For in the course of reflecting on his spectation-cum-audition of the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck, the present writer cannot have helped concluding that such reformation is utterly impracticable, because such shit-together-getting is also utterly impracticable, because the shit-getting-together attending any enterprise, very much including the literal collection of animal waste, necessitates a sense of more or less equally apportioned intentional involvement among all materially substantial parties concerned in that enterprise, and the adequate presentation of operas does not necessitate the eventuation of such a sense; this because the material contribution of the show-runners can no longer ever be—if it ever was—equal in magnitude to such contribution by the singers or even by the instrumentalists.  To expatiate: nowadays, in this most-Whiggish of all microepochs of the Whiggish era, one constantly hears talk about how we (i.e., effectively universally, all of us apart from the present writer) are living through a golden age of this or that phenomenon or practice, and vis-à-vis 99.99…% percent of these phenomena the present writer would reach for it (or them) rather than the nearest loo-roll in the event of a second-species loo-emergency.  When people say, for instance, that we are living through a golden age of television, I cannot but conclude that they are simply registering the unprecedented abundance of nudity and profanity in first-screenings accessible in a domestic setting, for nothing could be more patently devoid of any other engaging—let alone redeemable—dramaturgical feature than this microepoch’s most fulsomely lionized televisual franchises—The Crown, Ta-Tas & Dragons (a.k.a, G*** of T****s), etc.  But when it comes to performers and performances of serious music, I really do believe that there is something to this Whiggish talk.  It strikes me as entirely plausible that, for example, Simone Dinnerstein and Paul Lewis are among the most sensitive and accomplished interpreters of the keyboard repertoire, and Alicia Weilerstein and Hilary Hahn, of the cello and violin repertoire, respectively, ever to have lived; and these last two must be singled out in particular for their outstanding recordings of two extraordinarily difficult modern works—Carter’s cello concerto and Schoenberg’s violin concerto.  When badgered about the apparent unperformability of his then-new concerto some eighty years ago, Schoenberg is said to have frostily rejoined that he was willing to wait for the little finger to evolve to the point at which it was capable of playing the work.  Well now in Ms. Hahn we have a violinist whose little finger has evolved to that stage of competence.  And Ms. Hahn is by no means known as a specialist in especially recondite corners of the repertoire—to the contrary, she is about as mainstream and successful as one can get with a bowed instrument, a veritable fiddling superstar.  Essentially, in the present generation of musicians the entire corpus of serious modernist music, a corpus that was widely regarded as unperformable only a generation ago, has found a pool of interpreters entirely adequate to its realization.  And not the least striking proofs of this discovery is a Met orchestra to whom two of the three operatic masterpieces hailing from that corpus, Wozzeck and Lulu (the third being Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, whose infrequency of appearance at Lincoln Center is probably more up-chalkable to dramaturgical causes than to musical-performative ones [for let’s face it, Schoenbergophiles: M&A does not have a libretto that is overall as remotely captivating as that of W or L, even if the notorious-cum-celebrated episode of its dance around the golden calf does call for some guaranteed lorgnette-attracting full-frontal nudity]), have apparently become as familiar as Die Meistersinger or Falstaff,  an orchestra that can comfortably present Wozzeck every third or fourth season and Lulu every fifth or sixth—not to mention that this orchestra is able to interact with a cast of singers who, as mentioned before in specific connection with Wozzeck, are also entirely adequate to the technical-cum-expressive demands of these works.  And yet although we would seem to be living through a golden age of instrumental and vocal performance, to judge by the likes of the current production on which the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck is centered, we would seem to be simultaneously living through a tin age of opera shew-running.  Whence emanates the discrepancy in quality?  This discrepancy, at least so it presently seems to the present writer, seems at least in the main to emanate from a deflatingly prosaic discrepancy in the degree of amenability to improvement between the two lines of cultural production.  In instrumental musical performance, there has always been room for technical improvement as composers reliably continue to write works—e.g., the just-mentioned violin concerto—that are too technically demanding for the best instrumentalists of their day; and to a lesser but still pronounced extent as instrumentalists absorb the insights of their predecessors, an absorption that has presumably become more and more thorough and exacting over the past century with the ever-increasing expansion of the archive of recorded performances.  Vis-à-vis the performance of vocal music the prevalence and perdurability is at least slightly more disputable; how, after all, is one to explain that Schoenberg deliberately composed his most technically challenging piece of vocal music, the soprano concert aria “Herzgewächse,” for a vocal range exactly as extensive as that of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, for if he was willing to wait for the human pinkie to evolve to play his violin concerto, why should he not have been willing to wait for the human larynx to evolve to sing a song with an even broader range than that of the Queen of the Night—why not, indeed, if he did not presume that the human larynx, unlike the human pinkie, was destined to undergo no further exploitable evolution?  For all that, it is aurally observable that there has been at least a modest improvement in the overall quality of singing in the past half-century, such that the listener is generally benefited from hearing live or in new recordings the most celebrated vocalists of today alongside recordings of the most celebrated vocalists of yesteryear.  That such improvements on the performative end of musical production will continue into the indefinite or even the near-term future seems unreasonable to assume not only and most obviously on account of presumably insurmountable limitations to the human organism qua vehicle of performance—to the presumptive fact that both the pinkie and the larynx, how ever well nourished or exercised, will eventually be incapable of becoming suppler or more articulate (except, perhaps, through cybernetic means [but by all means let us not go thither of all places])—but also, and probably even more materially definitively, because composers have ceased to produce works that mutatis mutandis present technical challenges equal to those of the likes of Wozzeck, works that require performers to play them badly before they play them well.  This is not to say that there are not new compositions that present such technical challenges, but that none of these new technically challenging compositions enjoy the pride of place among musicians that the likes of Wozzeck enjoyed nine-tenths of a century ago.  In 1930 the American premiere of Wozzeck was conducted by Leopold Stokowski, then the most famous conductor in the world barring Toscanini and soon to be a collaborator with the most notoriously successful peddler of cinematically animated kitsch in the world, Walt Disney; in 1999 the world premiere of Elliott Carter’s What Next?, the most conspicuous heir apparent to Wozzeck in technical terms, was conducted by Daniel Barenboim, then at most the tenth-most-famous conductor in the world and a musician whose biggest pop-cultural splash had been his portrayal by an obscure character actor in a moderately financially successful biopic of his deceased wife, the cellist Jacqueline du Pré.  In general to the limited extent that today’s most celebrated serious musicians—and I am thinking here in particular of the abovementioned Mss. Hahn and Dinnerstei—have been interested in commissioning new works, they have sought out composers working in a technically-cum-expressively regressive idiom; most often an idiom consisting of a combination of unwaveringly diatonic minimalism and pseudo-folk-derived chromaticism; this perhaps because however ardently they may yearn for more demanding works they yearn even more ardently to be more accessible to some phantom bobo audience who unaccountably actually care about hearing the sort of kitschy aural pabulum available on tap from their local pub’s open mic night’s shittiest strummer or fiddler played by an artist who can and should know and do quasi-infinitely better.  Of course, if these artists had any sense—note that I write sense and not integrity, inasmuch as I believe that the aggrandizement of their own reputations is ultimately as much in point here as any duty to the music itself, whatever that music may be—they would give over trying to compete with their pop-cum-pseudo-folk-orientated counterparts and commission works from composers generally guaranteed to come up with something that is too difficult to sight-read and that therefore impels them to improve their technique.  But of course I am being more than a bit too hard on these most celebrated serious musicians for the purpose of the present digression, which purpose was after all to shew that they were far superior to their official counterparts in the domain of opera show-running, who in contrast to them (this was, by the way, the point to be highlighted by the digression) have long since lost all wiggle-room for technical-cum-expressive improvement.  They have lost this wiggle-room, in the first and perhaps foremost place, because opera show-running has never been an art in the restrictive sense in which violin-playing or piano-playing or singing or composing or even conducting is an art.  Nobody has ever discovered, or had imposed on him or her at his or her earliest infancy, a calling to become an opera show-runner as many a body has discovered or had imposed on him or her at his or her earliest infancy a calling to become a violinist aut al. (aut etc.), and thereby been compelled from earliest infancy onwards to work night and day at becoming as good an opera show-runner as possible in the manner that would-be violinists aut al.’s (aut etc.’s) have always been compelled to work night and day at becoming etc.; rather, one starts out pursuing some other sort of art or no art whatsoever and gets roped, or deliberately ropes oneself into, the practice of show-running operas.  A plurality, or perhaps even a slight majority, of opera show-runners have started out as actors and directors for the non-operatic stage, but a goodly proportion of them have hailed from such wildly unstageworthy lines of work as medicine (Jonathan Miller) and filmmaking (W***y A***n).  Hardly any of them have started out as aspiring professional musicians.  In describing opera show-running and opera show-runners in these admittedly implicitly unflattering terms, I by no means wish it to be understood that I take a dim view of opera-show-running as an ignoble pursuit eo ipso; for to the contrary, in the absence of opera show-runners no operas ever could have been simultaneously seen and heard by anyone anywhere, which would have been a sad loss in ca. 1790, ca., 1890, and even ca. 1990 if not necessarily now (more on this anon).  At the same time, from this description it must be clear that opera show-running does not require anything in the way of dedicated expertise in the way that the three activities in whose absence opera would not exist at all—namely, composing,  singing, and playing a musical instrument—do.  The opera show-runner can bring to bear on the presentation of his assigned or appropriated opera ideas drawn from his own bailiwick or indeed any other bailiwick under the sun provided that he can prevail upon the other material human forces involved in the presentation to accept these ideas.  At the same time2, it cannot be denied that the archive of opera show-running constitutes a body of work just as surely as the operatic repertoire itself does, an archive that is as open to consultation as that repertoire (is).  And such being the case, the latest show-runner of a given opera cannot but be tempted to one-up each and every one of his predecessors to whatever extent he is able within the scope of the bailiwick he brings to bear on the presentation of that opera, to overload the particular opera-show that he is running with every trick up his sleeve that has not been exploited by preceding presenters of that particular opera.  To be sure, there was a moment almost exactly a century ago—a  moment therefore coinciding almost exactly with the world premiere of Wozzeck—when developments in operatic show-running seemed to be moving in lock-step with developments in the abovementioned truly existentially indispensable components of opera.  Thus when Wozzeck was new, it, like most other works theretofore produced by the Schoenberg school, was regarded as an expressionistic composition and by chance or design received a premiere with expressionistic Edward Munch-esque painted backdrops.  Whether musical expressionism ever had much in common with painterly expressionism is debatable; certainly Schoenberg’s own bewilderingly beguiling paintings put the viewer in mind of the sound-world of his musical corpus, but they are hardly typical expressionistic canvases.  At any rate, by all admittedly spotty accounts, the initial expressionistic staging worked well for Wozzeck, and while not all subsequent successful presentations of the work could be described as expressionistic, all of them have inherited from the first one a certain salutary austerity and simplicity, a tendency to pare away everything that might impair the viewer-cum-listener’s ability to follow the work’s dramaturgical arc.  My favorite production, the late-80s Vienna State Opera one, might most aptly be described as one of minimalistic naturalism, inasmuch as while its costumes are all quite verisimilitudinously detailed, its sets are all quite unverisimilitudinously schematic, self-evidently designed with the aim of merely conveying where the scene immediately to eye and ear is taking place.  The Met’s present singularly unfortunate production I would describe in the phraseology of a certain Radio 4 panel show guest, an art critic whose name has regrettably long since escaped me, as an essay in academic postmodernism.   Academic postmodernism is the kind of art that over the past thirty years we have come to expect by default in museums thanks to the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin—a kind of art characterized by the laziest sort of semiotic laissez-faire-ism, essentially by the ad-nauseam visual quotation of the iconography of earlier artistic traditions, pseudo-traditions, and sub-traditions without any regard for their mutual semiotic interrelation.  It is postmodernist in virtue of its semiotic heterogeneity, which heterogeneity in itself is not objectionable provided that is subservient to some sense of purposive form (my norm here is the better portion of the musical corpus of Alfred Schnittke, in which the styles of earlier periods are evoked only at strategically significant points), and it is specifically academic postmodernism because of its laziness and because it is now the long-established museal status quo despite its willful unintelligibility.  One is never bemused or bewildered by exhibits of academic postmodernist art because bemusement and bewilderment are contingent on curiosity, on the will to understand, and one knows from the start that there is nothing to understand in connection with these works, that they have been conceived from the start with an eye merely to fulfilling the criterion for exhibition-worthiness—viz., semiotic heterogeneity.  And in the light of the specifically academic character of this postmodernism, my shock on seeing it applied to Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera last month seems more than a bit gormless in hindsight.  To be sure, the Metropolitan Opera, the Other Old Gray Lady of New York, was almost duty-bound to be slow to embrace a postmodernist opera show-running ethos.  But once, ca. five years ago, the postmodernist ethos had become a definitively academic ethos, once it had become the uncontested museal status quo with no rival in its remotest offing, once it had become as definitively functionally dead as the outermost skin cells of a centenarian’s big toe-calluses, why, then the Metropolitan Opera qua Other Old Gray Lady of New York was almost duty-bound to throw itself into the arms of that ethos like—well, I don’t know; perhaps like Whistler’s newly transitioned trans-father alacritously anally engaging with C*****n J****r in a MOMA-enshrined double portrait; from that moment onwards the dearth of postmodern productions from the Met’s stage must have seemed to Met general manager Peter Gelb at al. as embarrassingly retardataire as the counterfactual absence of touchtone telephones from the company’s administrative offices.  And as far as the present writer is concerned, the Met can put on academic postmodernist productions of its core repertoire until the gender-queer cattle come home in wellies, inasmuch as he regards that repertoire as aesthetically nugatory piffle that is impervious to either elevation or degradation by any means apart from the quality of the playing and singing involved.  As far as the present writer is concerned, the entire canon of bel canto, all those operas by the likes of Bellini and Donizetti, might as well never have been composed had they not attracted the vocal attention of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti, whose best versions of their arias he can in any case listen to at his pleasure without even having to wade through a complete three-CD set of Norma, I Puritani, autc., let alone sit through a complete kinescope or videotape performance thereof.  But Wozzeck is an opera he cares deeply about, and it pains him to see it made dramaturgical mincemeat of merely for the sake gratifying not even so comparatively noble a creature as the whim of a misguided but enthusiastic show- runner—say, the Peter Sellars of ca. 1985—but rather the sub-ignoble zombie of artistic conformism.  And he is pained not only or even principally on his own behalf but also and principally on behalf of the tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people who in going to see Wozzeck at the Met are approaching this masterpiece-cum-significant contribution to Occidental intellectual history as an entirely new or at most highly unfamiliar work and who are all-but-ineluctably bound to come away from the Met’s present presentation with the impression that Wozzeck in its essence is as chaotic, as incoherent, as the semiotic landscape of this presentation, that the landscape of the presentation is indeed tantamount to a perfect rendition of that chaotic, incoherent essence.  Such an impression is well-nigh ineluctably to be come away with by the newcomer because while the musical language of Wozzeck has long since become second nature to the work’s principal empirical producers, to singers and instrumentalists, this language has yet to become even tertiary nature to the work’s principal empirical consumers, to opera-goers and listeners and viewers of recordings of operas.  A case in what will ineluctably be thought of as all-too-convenient point (but so be it-stroke-f**k it) is the reaction of the friend with whom I took in last month’s Met HD presentation.  This friend is both an anciently ardent fan of Mahler and Dick Strauss and an anciently ardent anti-fan of the entire so-called Second Viennese School.  He has never been able to sit through anything by Schoenberg himself, let alone by Webern, and has always found Lulu thoroughly off-putting.  But by this or that same token he has always maintained a tentatively sympathetic placelet in his heart for Wozzeck, has always at least grudgingly acknowledged that he can at least understand why somebody might be moved by that work to the same extent that he himself is moved by the works of Mahler and Dick Strauss.  Howbeit, after watching that Met HD presentation he remarked to me that that presentation, the first visual presentation of Wozzeck he had yet encountered, led him to believe that he had always overestimated Wozzeck, that while the several audio recordings of Wozzeck he had heard had led him to conjecture that it was a work imbued with great meaning and pathos, the presentation we had just seen led him to the contrary to conjecture that it amounted to nothing but a lot of affectively neutral meaningless noise.  So whereas before spectating on this bisensory presentation of Wozzeck he had been on the royal road to appreciating Wozzeck in all its actual glory thanks to a purely aural presentation of it, now he was on the plebian road to consigning Wozzeck to the same fictitious rubbish heap to which he had (wrongly to be sure) preemptively consigned all the other works of the SVS.  Obviously any manner of presentation of an opera (or indeed of any other so-called work of art) that impedes its appreciation and understanding by someone as favorably disposed to appreciate and understand it as my friend has been to appreciate and understand Wozzeck is pernicious from the point of view of anyone but that opera’s would-be effective utter destroyers, its would-be buriers in utter oblivion.  But such would-be destroyers-cum-buriers in oblivion is what the Met’s current crop of show-runners undeniably are, however much at their insu.  In this connexion I am reminded of the third of Robert Conquest’s laws of politics: “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies,” not so much in connection with the Met considered in isolation—if it even can be considered in isolation in any so-called meaningful sense—or even with the opera show-running industry considered in isolation, as with the entire high-cultural show-running industry, which is undeniably tantamount to a mighty bureaucratic organization comparable in personnel size if not in budget to one of the larger U.S. federal governmental agencies.  The present writer admits to having always found Conquest’s Third Law a bit shy if not quite wide of the mark in the light of his own experience of bureaucratic organizations, an experience that tends rather to confirm Max Weber’s assertion that such organizations are self-perpetuating and self-ramifying—i.e., inter alia, that they are controlled by their friends rather than by their enemies, and that, in the words of a judicious corrector of Conquest, in the case of each such organization the controllers direct their enmity towards the stated purpose of the organization rather than towards the organization itself.  Thus the stated purpose of the high-cultural show-running industry is the transmittal to the present of the best that has been thought, said, and wrought in dramaturgical terms in the past, and yet as instanced by the present Met presentation of Wozzeck, it seems to be controlled by people who wish to do everything in their power to impede this transmittal.  These controllers diabolically cloak their willful impedance in the language of altruism by purporting to be making the works in their care fresher and more relevant to today’s audience—all the while knowing that it is it they themselves rather than today’s audience who have grown tired of and out of touch with these works, which they have in general never appreciated in the first place, as they have in turn in general never been placed in a position requiring them to confront the works on the works’ own terms, as artifacts in the fullest, richest sense, as repositories of objectified historically conditioned experience—or in plainer terms, as crafted but fundamentally inert things that can only be brought to life via the excavation of what was actually put into them at the moment of their fabrication.  If the destiny of the great dramaturgically conceived works of the past were entirely and permanently in the hands of the high-cultural show-running industry, we who love these works would indeed have cause to vomit our own hands in despair.  Happily, as suggested by the very recent moribundity or even outright demise of too many bureaucratic quasi-organizations to be named, there is at least unbad reason to suppose that in contravention of the present writer’s previous experience Conquest’s Third Law holds true in a strong sense and that it will soon be borne out in the fortunes of the high-cultural show-running industry, that this industry will simply disintegrate in face of the manifest general awareness that it has no desire to fulfill its stated purpose or even to perpetuate itself, that it continues to exist simply in order to line the pockets of a passel of short term-minded pirates who have no interest (either financial or affective) in sticking around long enough to inculcate the cadges of their mystery into a succeeding generation of show-runners.  To be sure, as long as these pirates remain alive and in business, intelligent but naïve seekers after the best that has been thought, said, and wrought in dramaturgical terms in the past will continue to seek out such abominations as the Met’s latest Wozzeck and the RSC’s latest travesty of a Shakespeare play in the delusory belief that they are thereby getting as close as possible to that selfsame best; and a goodly proportion of these intelligent naifs will subsequently erroneously conclude that the bilge served up to them by the pirates is that selfsame best and will consequently give over taking any interest whatsoever (affective or otherwise) in that selfsame best for the respective durations of their respective naturals.  But once these pirates are safely slumbering forever after in Davy Jones’s bosom, such intelligent naifs will be compelled to acquaint themselves with this selfsame best via the audiovisual dramaturgical archive thereof, and they will in every respect be all the better off for the supervention of this compulsion.  In the case of Shakespeare they will be algorithmically directed to such yeomanly serviceable realizations as the BBC’s 1980s survey of the complete plays and Trevor Nunn’s quasi-contemporaneous TV adaptations of three of the four great tragedies; in the case of Wozzeck etc. (the c. naturally comprising the at-most butchers double-dozen other operas actually worth paying any attention to) to the cream of the studio recordings and video-tapings made between the late 1960s and, say, the late 20-oughties.  Of course even under the auspices of this  post-piratic dispensation, the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck will figure among the audiovisual choices offered, and if in point of viewerly-cum-listenerly hits it happens to come out on top of the to-my-mind immeasurably superior likes of the aforementioned 1987 Vienna State Opera presentation and Pierre Boulez’s 1966 double LP starring Walter Berry (to my mind still the ultimate Wozzeck, at least in exclusively vocal terms), why, then, this will just go to show either that the people really do imponderably regard this as the most faithful realization of Wozzeck, or even more discouragingly that they have a higher regard for academic postmodernism than for anything that pre-academic modernism ever had to offer.