October 6, 2014 / 2:43 PM / 4 years ago

Vienna State Opera, ditched by star conductors, soldiers on

VIENNA (Reuters) - Not many opera seasons start off as dramatically as this year’s did at the Vienna State Opera with two star conductors storming off, but the opera’s director Dominique Meyer wants to put that behind him.

Vienna State Opera director Dominique Meyer gestures during a Reuters interview in his office in Vienna October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The departures of Franz Welser-Moest, the opera’s general music director, followed in short order by the resignation of guest conductor Bertrand de Billy, left a big hole in the schedule for one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses.

Others have filled in, and Meyer has taken a philosophical approach.

“What is important in reality is what happens every evening in this house - it breathes and functions,” Meyer said in an interview with Reuters.

Welser-Moest, one of Austria’s most famous conductors who also leads the Cleveland Orchestra, quit as musical director only days after the season began over artistic differences, leaving 34 events without a conductor.

Frenchman de Billy, who had already abruptly left a production of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” last season over a dispute about a one-minute cut, waved goodbye to Meyer’s opera only days after Welser-Moest.

Complaining to local media about working under Meyer, de Billy said he left the opera at least for the duration of the director’s tenure. Meyer would not be drawn.

“I will certainly never say a word that would prohibit good conductors from returning,” the French-born Meyer, who has directed the opera since 2010, said in near-flawless German.

“When relationships break apart, it is rarely just the fault of one person,” he said in his office nestled within the marble-clad halls of the opera house.

With one of the largest repertoires of any opera house, the Vienna State Opera caters to an audience of whom about a third are tourists. They like seeing three different operas in three days, a pressure some say has hurt innovation.

Local media headlined “Routine instead of revolution” following Sunday’s State Opera premiere of a new production of Mozart’s “Idomeneo”.

Meyer, born in Alsace, wants to offer more world premieres - the next one is slated for 2018 - but what matters to him is keeping 2,300 opera-goers happy every night, and finding the right people to do that.

He agrees that an opera house must innovate, but questions the necessity of being radical or avant-garde.

“We have so far handed out five commissions for new operas and children’s’ operas. Is that avant-garde? No, we feel that is just normal for an opera. We have to do our bit.”

Vienna State Opera director Dominique Meyer gestures during a Reuters interview in his office in Vienna October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

One man Meyer would like to see at Vienna’s opera is Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, who himself bowed out of Rome’s opera house in September and has worked at the Vienna State Opera before. Meyer advised Muti when he founded his Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in 2004.

“We are linked by a close friendship. We will talk and I hope we will succeed in getting him back.” Muti’s record of quitting - he previously left Milan’s La Scala opera - was seen as no barrier.

“In truth we know that no one is irreplaceable,” Meyer said.

Editing by Michael Roddy/Jeremy Gaunt

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