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Tragedy of a Virgin Wedding

In 1999, Peter Stein, one of Germany's most celebrated directors, undertook the daunting task of staging all 12,111 lines of Faust, the "world poem" which Goethe spent nearly 60 years writing.

Its range of subject matter, its mixture of genres and its varieties of tone make it a challenge to read, let alone pull together into a coherent piece of theatre. Nonetheless, Stein (whom the work took decades to understand) learned to read it "like a newspaper".

The harsher critics took Stein to task for failing to present a production with more decisive interpretive lines. They wanted a new Faust, and though there is not really an old one, criticised Stein for not innovating.

Cruellest of all was Gerhard Stadelmaier (of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Germany's leading drama critic. Under the headline, "Tragedy of a virgin wedding," Mr Stadelmaier wrote that Mr Stein had pursued his lady, "Faust," for 30 years -- and now that he had finally got her was suddenly unable to perform.

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