Can Critics Get Away With Anything? Reading Michael Cerha and “Der Standard”

Michael H. Hardern
Operetta Research Center
21 February, 2015

The Austrian newspaper Der Standard was founded in 1988 and is known, if you believe Wikipedia, as a “left-liberal” and “anti-clerical” publication. It’s certainly one of the big newspapers in the country, with a large culture section. Recently, the critic Michael Cerha (who studied German Literature, Theology and Classics) reported on a new production of White Horse Inn in Klagenfurt. His article can only be called “stunning” and deserving of commentary.

Obviously, many things have been said about the Weiße Rössl over the years. Especially in recent times, the discussion moved onto a different level with multiple new aspects having been brought into the discourse arena. It started with the Musik-Konzepte edition on Rössl, in 2006, and went via a reconstruction of the original 1930 jazz version to a new film version in 2013 and a first “LGBT staging” to premiere in Bremen next month.

Scene from the Klagenfurt production of "Im weißen Rössl," staged by Aron Stiehl.

Scene from the Klagenfurt production of “Im weißen Rössl,” staged by Aron Stiehl.

You do not have to like the White Horse Inn, no matter how much there is to discuss. But to write the following and publish it in a big national and international newspaper is downright embarrassing:

Dass Josef Köpplinger, der vormalige Intendant des Klagenfurter Stadttheaters, das sogenannte Singspiel Im weißen Rössl in seiner Eröffnungsinszenierung am Münchner Gärtnerplatztheater künstlerisch rehabilitiert hat, ist ein Irrtum: Es sollte doch ein Witz sein, dass ein österreichischer Intendant zu seinem Amtsantritt in Deutschland gerade dieses mit Powidl-Tatschkerln auf die österreichische Eigenständigkeit pochende Werk aus der Mottenkiste der Musikgeschichte geholt hat! Wenn danach die Grazer Oper und jetzt auch noch das Klagenfurter Stadttheater glauben, dieses Schnulzen-Arrangement lasse sich wirklich von den Toten auferwecken, ist das – sogar im Fasching – ein Missverständnis. […] Schon die Anzahl und das Format der Väter von Ralph Bernatzky über Robert Stolz bis Bruno Granichstaedten, Robert Gilbert und Hans Frankowsik deutet ja darauf hin, dass es dem Weißen Rössl von der Zeugung an hinten und vorne an Saft und Kraft gefehlt hat. Zu kläglich scheitert da Rezitativ um Rezitativ, die aneinander gestoppelten Schlager a la ‚Eine Kuh wie du‘ auch nur notdürftigst in einen Sinnzusammenhang zu bringen. Das Klagenfurter Programmheft verzichtet nicht zufällig auf jegliche Inhaltsangabe!

We hope your German is up to this. Because many of the points made here are simply ludicrous. They demonstrate a deep-rooted dislike of the genre and its unique “production standards,” that are more modern than Mr. Cerha seems to comprehend. On top of that, to mention “recitatives” in White Horse Inn is probably the most telling revelation of a total lack of understanding.

Yes, you could ask: who cares if one critic wishes to ventilate such a load of bullshit?

If this happens in a major Austrian – if not European – newspaper, read by many people, it is of importance, though. Because it confirms to all those readers all the negative things people have said about “operetta” for decades, not taking note of the new discussions the genre and its performance tradition have benefitted from in the recent past.

Whether stage director Aron Stiehl, whose White Horse Inn production we are talking about in this case, is one of the “new” directors reviving the genre, is something everyone will have to decide for him- or herself. But to curse a production and blame the show as inferior without knowing it is somewhat borderline.

Perhaps Der Standard should investigate this and ask itself if Michael Cerha is an author who represents the values and standards (no pun intended) of their publication?

To read his full and original article, click here.


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