Music and artists in the new witch hunt era

Last updated Jul 18, 2019 | Published on Feb 23, 2018

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
The Weinstein case generated a snowball effect: no, I’m not talking about the lawsuits or the #metoo stories. I’m talking about the side effect on the art world: the American version of “House of cards” got shut down, with people cheering to take the awards away from Kevin Spacey; Woody Allen went under the microscope in a Washington Post article by Richard Morgan, who, in an impervious and fairly superficial analysis puts everything in the same box, limiting himself to see Allen as an old man obsessed by teenage girls; thousands of people signed a petition to remove a painting by Balthus (Thérèse rêvant) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art because it was promoting paedophilia (thankfully, the Museum utterly refused to abide, though the number of petitioners keeps growing); Carmen’s finale was turned upside down to be closer to the contemporary feeling towards feminicide; and let’s forget about Facebook, which on regular basis takes down pictures of sculptures representing nude men and women because they deem them pornographic. This last one came way before the Weinstein case but still fits in the picture.
We are somehow used to the trivialization of art by modern (and not so modern) knights of the moral. We are, perhaps, a little less used to the increasing easiness with which these bans are accepted or masterpieces are twisted or an artist’s works are burnt in a medieval attempt of purification. In Spacey’s case, the whole thing is even more ironic: Americans demand an incredibly high standard of ethics from their fictional president while they are much looser towards the real one.
Cast photo for Broadway stage play, Play it Again Sam, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 1969.
In Carmen’s case, things are a tad more complicated, given the fact that we’re not dealing with one individual but with a well-established piece of art. Certainly, there is nothing wrong in trying to make “actual” an opera that was written more than 100 years ago, in order to make it better resonate with the time we live in. It is, after all, what theater is about: re-interpretation, new perspectives, challenges.

The balance between the original author intentions and the imposed modern solutions is, however, a different matter. I have the very strong feeling that more often than not, some “solutions” are adopted almost exclusively to make people talk about a production. And there it is: Carmen is not Carmen anymore, but the Carmen of Cristiano Chiarot (intendant at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino) who decided along with the director and the conductor that the original story wasn’t good enough anymore and therefore needed to be rewritten.

In Mr. Chiarot’s words: “At a time when our society is having to confront the murder of women, how can we dare to applaud the killing of a woman?“.

I see. By the same token, I suppose he’ll change the finale of Pagliacci as well. I do believe that with this statement Mr. Chiarot is confusing the reality of a theater with the reality of a stadium: we are not applauding a murder, same way as we are not taking Don Giovanni as a role model. We are applauding a masterpiece that tells us a story: whether we like how it ends has nothing to do with it. Carmen is a work of art that doesn’t need to be changed, it already proved it can survive time quite easily without any extra help.

The altered finale is everything but brilliant or useful and it most certainly does not give a new perspective of the opera or underlines some of its subtleties; it’s simply the old trick of drawing a mustache on the Gioconda: it doesn’t better the original, but it gets people to talk.

The revisitation of Carmen falls perfectly in our time when the politically correct must reign over everything and everyone. Art, according to the new inquisitors, must be ethical and must portray its stories in line with the general sense of morality that permeates society. It’s a concept that is, in fact, hundreds of years old and that draws away from the real essence of art itself.

Art is supposed to challenge the world we live in, giving a new and different perspective on it.

Masterpieces are such because, no matter what, they never get old, not because we adapt them to suit our needs.

The querelle is as old as it gets: should we not play Wagner anymore? Or maybe we should stop playing La Traviata because it tells the story of a prostitute (and Verdi was a renown tombeur de femmes); what about Cosí fan tutte? or the Rake’s progress? Should we go back to draw leaves on the intimate parts of great frescoes? Should we stop having exhibitions of Caravaggio’s paintings because he killed people? Or stop reading Nietzsche because he was in love with his sister? Or seriously consider signing the petition against Balthus’ work?

Going down this road is as sick as it is insane: in the end, this is not even a matter of pushing for some sort of ethical art (whatever that means) but for a moral control of the role of art and culture in a society. We’ve been down that road before. It led to people burning books.

Quite a disturbing thought.

Photo by Ian Espinosa


Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

  1. michael david Rubin

    Griglio – thank you for intelligent thoughts on today’s art “appreciation.” Today’s mindless social fads indicate nothing but stupidity, whether applied to opera, painting or any other form of design & composition. We should not overlook, either, the deceptive harm that current distortions of the legitimate needs of an objective feminism have done to women & girls, emotionally, financially, & medically. Politics, in any case, has always been toxic to art, though in the past rulers (we would like to hope) embodied the values of their cultures – there was no official politics, just display of the power of rule. Today, politics & art alike do little more than embody social spite, envy & simply mediocrity of knowledge, to say nothing of lack of talent. There will always be ignorance & pandering to this absence of artistic expression; & political demagogues will always use it for their own ambitions. Don’t despair – there are stirrings of talent, & the persistence of serious critiques such as your own, that encourage new generations of designers, composers, & even civic-minded politicians.

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