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Renewed Success For Artistic Freedom

Renewed Success For Artistic Freedom

Judith Adam-Caumeil, attorney and partner at the law firm Cabinet Adam-Caumeil, has won a leading case before the Versailles Court of Appeal. The verdict recognises the artistic freedom of staging under French law, granting extensive scope for artistic realisation and reinterpretation.

Back in 2015, the Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich Opera) found itself accused of distortion while showing ‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’, a much-acclaimed opera across the globe. Mrs. Adam-Caumeil, specialising in Franco-German business relations, represented the Munich Opera against Mr. Gilles Bernanos, administrator of the estate of French writer Georges Bernanos.

The drama, inspired by ‘The Last on the Scaffold’, a novella by Gertrud von Le Fort, was written by Georges Bernanos, with music and libretto composed by Francis Poulenc. The opera is set during the French Revolution and tells the fictionalised story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, Carmelite nuns, who were guillotined in Paris for refusing to renounce their vocation. In Tcherniakov’s adaption, the final scene showed the nuns in a house, intoxicated by gas leakage. The nuns, however, are saved by Blanche de la Force (Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ), who solely dies the martyrdom.

Not only did the staging by avant-garde director Dmitri Tcherniakov cause great media response, but also a lawsuit against the Munich Opera, who was indicted for distortion of the original artwork by the heirs of Georges Bernanos and Francis Poulenc. The stop of the performance, and a ban on the sale and airing of the filmed staging (DVDs by BelAir Classiques and Mezzo TV) of Dialogues des Carmélites at the Munich Opera, was demanded.

The first success was achieved at the Paris Court of First Instance. The court declared itself not competent in the matter. As a result, the stop of the performance was averted. The Paris Court of Appeal, however, ruled that “Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production deviates in its final scene from the works of Georges Bernanos and Francis Poulenc (...) and thus infringes the moral rights of authors who are attached to it.”

The Supreme Court then revoke the judgement of the Paris Court of Appeal, stating “Tcherniakov certainly brought his own vision to the original work. (...) The central themes of the work, including that of martyrdom, were respected because the nuns were ready to die, but they were saved at the last minute. Thus, Mr Tcherniakov cannot be blamed for the distortion of the original work.” In his decision, the Supreme Court even referred to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The case was referred back to the Versailles Court of Appeal, which has reached a verdict on the 30th of November 2018.

This final decision is a success for Artistic Freedom as it complies with the verdict of the Supreme Court and awards extensive scope for the artistic realisation to the director. The verdict confirms the preservation of Bernanos and Poulenc’s essential themes of hope, martyrdom, and grace. Judith Adam-Caumeil points out, “not the guillotine, but the religious aspects are the central message of Georges Bernanos. Because the nuns lived the martyrdom, the exchange of the guillotine with gas did not change the main message.”

The significance of this landmark decision extends beyond France, and beyond the opera scene. “Staging is now recognised as a work of art in its own right. Because of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the judgement is of particular importance, which can be applied throughout the performing arts field”, explains Mrs. Adam-Caumeil.

Nikolaus Bachler, Director of the Munich Opera, is pleased with the verdict, “art always is interpretation. The fact that a court has now recognised this is important for all fields of art.” Dialogues of the Carmelites will return to the stage in 2020.

Now, art can continue to live, continue to give thought-provoking impulses when being reinvented or translated into the present. New artwork can be created by staging without directors being bound to historical accuracy. For Mrs. Adam-Caumeil, “every artist has the freedom to portray and present things the way they see them. Otherwise, it is not art, but a mere reproduction of the already existing.”


Cabinet Adam-Caumeil:
Adam-Caumeil - Cabinet d'Avocats on YouTube:
Judith Adam-Caumeil on Linkedin:
Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich Opera):
Dmitri Tcherniakov:

The Case In The Media:
Süddeutsche Zeitung:
Interpretieren geht über Komponieren (DE)
Bayerischer Rundfunk:
Poulenc DVD Back On Market:

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