Kasper Holten has kindly spared the time to make a lengthy and constructive comment addressing some of the criticism of La donna del lago and the more general issues raised. You can read it on the post itself, or below:
I think this discussion is in fact very good to have (about productions and tastes, that is..), and I think it is maybe time for me to add my voice to it. I would encourage that we can have a lively and open debate about what makes opera exciting and what we like and do not like about productions, and I follow all comments with interest.
First of all, let me say that I don't think that [link] is actually what I said, I think I said: "Part of our audience clearly do not like to be challenged. But we are just going to have to continue doing it." I cannot completely rule out that I might have said "teach them" instead, but if I did I want to apologise, because that would indeed be an arrogant comment. And actually not what I mean.
What I mean is - and what I think has never been a secret, that this is what I stood for in Copenhagen and want to stand for here - that I think it is important to continuously challenge audiences as well as ourselves, in order to move opera forward. This means taking risks. This means having something to say with what we do. And this mean presenting different production styles (in other words, I am certainly not advocating just doing one kind of productions, I think the mix of different types of voices is precisely the point). This - the mix as well as the risk-taking - inevitably means sometimes failing (not that I am suggesting this is what happened in the case of Onegin and Lago). And sometimes upsetting audiences. And this is why I think - in spite of it naturally being hurtful for the creative team to feel the audience not liking their work, I hate getting booed, it stings very hard every time it happens (not sure I should give this away, might give too much pleasure to some of the booers ;-) ) - it is important to say that we must keep challenging ourselves and audiences, not just trying to play on what feels like 'safe bets', which in my view is ultimately the biggest risk and equals artistic death.
This is certainly not the same as wanting to teach audiences to share my taste, and as mentioned, if I did indeed use the word 'teach', then that was arrogant and uncalled for and I apologise.
I totally understand what SJT says [link]. But I can assure you that the stage directors are probably the ones who carries the biggest doubt around, always doubting, questioning, searching and living with the fact that it is so unpredictable what we do. You search honestly for a response to each piece, in my experience you never set out to shock or provoke but try to find a way you can make this piece come alive in the strongest possible way, and you always want to be courageous - but equally hopes that the audience will be moved by it, will love it. I really don't think I know any of my colleagues who - however confident or even arrogant we or our work might seem - are not basically always doubting, always questioning their own work. You set out on a journey with a piece, and you just hope it will be good. You know you will fail if you try to please or figure it out, but of course you hope it will work. And then so often it is surprising: I have done productions that were really popular with everyone, productions that were widely hated by everyone, and others - even more difficult - where opinion is completely divided. The one thing they have in common is that I could never really foresee what the reaction would be. And that if I think too much about it, it becomes about my personal vanity rather than about trying to do an honest piece of work.
Now, I don't want to get into a specific discussion about Onegin or Lago. I heard from a lot of people who said they had been deeply moved by Onegin, and from others who said they hated it. I even met a couple at a dinner for donors, where the man said it was one of the best things he had seen in years and his wife fiercely rejected the production! I response to John above [link], I can say that John Fulljames certainly did have very difficult working conditions, but that should never serve as an excuse or even explanation. What we put on, is what we put on. And that is what we stand by, of course.
But it is equally important for me to say that we live in a time, where short term success seems so important to us. Of course, we want to be successful. But for me, the ability to stay courageous and curious is even more important, because it is honest. This is why I think it is more important for us to keep challenging audiences - and ourselves - if we want to be successful on another level. This was what was behind my comment, and this is my philosophy for the job I do. I hope you don't perceive that as arrogant. I hope we will put on success after success, but I hope we will be able to do it not just because we tried to figure out in advance what you would all like, but because we had the courage to be honest (whether I then have the necessary talent as a stage director, that is of course another discussion and not one for me to lead, and in any case of course we often end up with a discussion of taste).
Best wishes - and in the hope of many engaging discussions about productions over the years,