Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dominique Meyer, Lösungsfinder

Wiener Staatsoper Publikumsgespräch, 17/09/2011
This morning Staatsoperdirektor Dominique Meyer spoke to the masses, which for the Wiener Staatsoper consists mostly of hard done by society ladies disgruntled at not getting Parterre seats for the Thielemann Ring.

There isn’t much to report: for the gullible, Meyer was peddling that old one about only ‘gekaufte Karten’ accounting for record-breaking ticket sales last season (98.33% of total capacity and 99.7% for opera). Regiekarten (comps) used to be free, but a few years ago the Staatsoper introduced a small charge – last time I spoke to an insider this was a mere €9 [edit: as of this September, it's €15] – and now disingenuously claims these as legitimate sales.

The Staatsoper’s new web app will go live in a couple of months and you will be able to order your programme online (what is so complicated about buying it before the performance I don’t understand). An online archive of all performances since 1900 will also be introduced, and I hope it will be as easily searchable and well-designed as this database on the Konzerthaus website. Meyer was looking over in my direction as he announced that it was up to us to notify the Staatsoper of errors; funny, as the archive will rely on information from a book which I know to be riddled with them.

In foreign news, the Wiener Philharmoniker’s annual visit to Carnegie Hall will be extended to a full week in 2014. Programmes will include Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss, Berg, and Schoenberg. The WPO will perform as the Staatsopernorchester for concert performances of Fidelio, Salome, and Wozzeck. No news on casting for that. The Staatsoper is also planning Gastspiele in Moscow and other cities.

Questions from the floor were insufferable, and in one case, offensive. ‘You aren’t doing enough to promote young Austrian singers’ was phrased in a tone of voice that barely concealed the ugly subtext of there being too many dirty foreigners in the ensemble. There was a gentleman who thought that a second-hand Traviata was bad enough, but one that had been broadcast on television, unthinkable. Meyer responded that keeping it in-house would have cost five times more than a co-production, and economising on Traviata freed up enough cash to splash some new paint on four repertory relics. I'm not convinced by the five times more or refurbishing rather than retiring superannuated productions, but whatever. Oh yes, and the ticket thing. ‘When we announced that Thielemann would conduct the Ring, over 8000 people applied for 2300 tickets.’ ‘Then why not have three or four Rings?’ (Seriously).

Answering these questions, Meyer cast himself as the guy forced to implement imperfect solutions. Taking up predecessor Ioan Holender’s habit of complaining about revenue, he argued that his hands are tied due to a government subsidy that hasn’t been raised in sixteen years. This might wash were the Staatsoper not so relaxed about the grey market in ticket sales. The Met has its premium seats, but the Staatsoper freely gives away tickets to agencies in the full knowledge that certain performances will sell at a ridiculously inflated mark up. Meyer also reaffirmed his commitment – again, not a cigarette paper between him and Holender here – to forty-five operas per season.

Meyer is an avuncular figure who knows how to flatter the Viennese. But rather than charming them into accepting fresh leadership, this morning he seemed at pains only to prove how well he had been house-trained.

Image credit APA / Roland Schlager

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