Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Music Director and new Artistic Director announced at the Royal Danish Opera.

 Michael Boder. Photo by Alexander Vasiljev.

New Music Director is Michael Boder. He has conducted both of Alban Berg's two monumental masterpieces "Wozzeck" and "Lulu" in the house and very recently Strauss' "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", and commended a great deal of respect with his confident and naturally authoritative conducting.

New Artistic Director is Sven Müller, and he comes from within the house, having served as Assistant Artistic Director for several years.

Sven Müller
Official announcement is here.

Here's the backstory:
The Royal Danish Opera has been in turmoil since the sudden departure of the former Artistic Director Keith Warner, who left after only 6 months of office, and the simultaneous farewell of the Music Director designate Jakub Hrusa.
The crisis of the Opera department of the Royal Danish Theatre can be linked to both severe problems in dealing with huge budget cuts and what appeared to be a very clear lack of communication and/or understanding between the General Manager of the Theatre - Erik Jakobsen - and Warner. In a thundering burning-all-your-bridges speech, Warner announced his resignation to a gathering of all the opera's employes and made public a large number of issues. His the speech was quickly leaked to the press.

The budget cuts have affected all three departments (Opera, Acting, Ballet) and led to other rather severe internal problems becoming a public matter, including the refueling of an ongoing conflict between several balletdancers and the Ballet's AD Nicolai Hübbe. The dancers protested during an international tour, handing out flyers at Paris' Palace Garnier proclaiming the death of the Ballet, and several were pushing for Hübbe's retirement, following allegations of cocaine abuse and tyrannical management.

The Chorus of the RDO has been reduced to a small size opera chorus (40 members), and the number of operaproductions to 8 (!) in the 12/13 season, with 5 of them being new productions. Several members of the soloist ensemble have simply left as a consequence of the managerial hubbub and there not being suitable parts for them to sing, most notably major names such as tenor Stig Andersen and bass Stephen Miling.

Following the 2005 inauguration of the new 400 mill. € operahouse 'Operaen', the opera invested heavily in the Copenhagen Ring, a complete production of Wagners 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' cycle, and created an awardwinning cycle, carried almost entirely by house singers, directed by then AD Kasper Holten and conducted by then MD Michael Schønwandt. The cycle was a major achievement for the house, and brought with it a massive influx of experience and expertise that can only come with undertaking such a huge project. Unfortunately, Holten decided to scrap the entire set, in an act of either budget savvy (big stagepieces are expensive to store) or incredible vanity. Nonetheless, in the years that followed, the in-house singers that grew immensely from that experience - such as Andersen and Milling and sopranoes Tina Kiberg, Irene Theorin and Susanne Resmark - have gone on to sing other huge parts in works such as Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde, Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Parsifal, but now there is simply no budget for the massive pieces they have earlier triumphed in, and most are likely to leave before long.

What about the orchestra? It has floundered without artistic leadership for years now and has still managed amazing performances, testifying to the ability  and potential of the orchestra for world class playing. But, there are signs of potential troubles ahead, with several brilliant members of the orchestra seeking employment elsewhere, and those close to the orchestra might detect the signs of a detrimental kind of hyperdemocracy setting in, where leadership is wanting. As we all know, there is no democracy in art, but it is only natural that a group with no appointed leader will quickly develop internal management. The orchestra needs a music director, and a good one. Fast. Boder might be just what the doctor ordered.

The house has other issues, one major problem being a glaring tendency to let union regulations - rather than artistic needs - dictate proceedings. All regulations need a serious overhaul, but there are many who will defend their luxury conditions like vicious pitbulls.

All in all, there are plenty of challenges for a new boss to deal with, as well as an honest world class potential.

So, today the Royal Opera announced that the new Artistic Director has been found, and his name is Sven Müller. Müller has been 'Assistant Artistic Director' in the house since 2008.  His 'danish' title was that of Ensemblechef, and he was initially hired in an attempt to further the development of the three ensembles in the house (singers/chorus/orchestra) and develop a musical vision, with Kasper Holten having his natural focus on directing, and Schønwandt having openly abandoned any managerial obligations to focus on simply conducting.

With Müller's insider knowledge of the house and somewhat dry, german approach, he might be expected to lead a relatively troublefree and smooth period, which is probably what a General Manager under heavy criticism wants, and also what the politicians have demanded ("stop making fools of yourselves, and start working on becoming a relevant cultural institution" was the message).
What it yet to be seen, is whether he has the support internally from hundreds of passionate artists who hunger for someone with a burning sword to lead the way artistically. How can he compete with the media savvy of Kasper Holten or the creative visions of Keith Warner? He wont. He will lead from a different perspective, but his job will under any circumstance not be an easy one.

- Jesper

Operaen, Copenhagen


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If you could magically create your dream conductor, but he/she could only posess one quality, he/she should preferably be...