A few months ago I – and many other people I know in Wien – signed a petition against the impending federal funding cuts that would cripple the city’s second smallest opera company, the Wiener Kammeroper. Those cuts went ahead and at present the Kammeroper is in limbo: they cut their season down to three operas in 2010-11 and no productions were announced for 2011-12. On their website they do say that a 2012 ‘programme’ will come shortly, and in the meantime the Theater an der Wien has been renting the space for productions that would normally take place in their studio (the ‘Hölle’), which is currently out of use due to water damage. All this seemed above board and I didn’t question it further at the time. But wait! Vienna is nothing if not a city of scandalmongering and intrigue, as Arabella reminds us. And in the case of the Kammeroper it appears that David Pountney, writing in July 2011, has the inside track:
I have two petitions for you to sign! One is from Vienna, that fabled city of false smiles and lethal handshakes. There resides, or resided, the Kammeroper, a tiny little opera company housed in the former ball-room of the Hotel Post. It was founded by Hans Gabor – whose name I stole for a character in Mr. Emmet takes a Walk – and is now run by his widow, Isabel, and an engaging eccentric German Holger Bleck. They have maintained an astonishing record of highly adventurous repertoire, and have become a vital resource of experience and development for countless young artists. I declare an interest here: my wife Nicola virtually turned herself into a successful opera director via 7 productions at the Kammeroper – but then that is exactly what such institutions are for. Unfortunately, one of the other big fish in Vienna’s foetid operatic pool has eyes on the potential of this little theatre to be their studio annexe, and has close connections with the city’s cultural minister. Hey presto, the next thing to appear on the Kammeroper’s desk is an invitation for Isabel and Holger to step down and hand over their little jewel to the predatory fish. Not surprisingly, they stuck one proverbial finger in the air and said “No”!You can read more here (thanks to John of operaramblings for bringing Pountney’s blog to my attention). Some of the other posts are worth reading too, if only because ‘discretion’ and ‘tact’ obviously aren’t in Pountney’s vocabulary. The Wiener Philharmoniker ‘adore’ Christian Thielemann – which is probably true, though they have a funny way of showing it sometimes – but he is ‘one of the ugliest conductors around, giving an uncanny impersonation of a praying mantis with back pain.’ Apparently directors are personae non gratae at Wiener Staatsoper revivals, which doesn’t surprise me too much (wait until your Jenůfa is a good thirty years old, David, and then you might be invited back in your dotage for ‘aufpolieren’, just like Otto Schenk). And naturally you’ll want to read why the arts shouldn’t ‘joyously frolic in the nudity of self-financing’.
On the other side of town, the central government, which has been funding the Kammeroper more or less 50/50 with the city, decides to cut down its subsidy, probably because it sees such a venture as more in the remit of the city than the state, with some justice. Normally this kind of thing would result in some energetic jostling between city and state, ending in a rebalancing of their respective subsidy commitments. Not on this occasion. Now the city is apparently only too willing to stand by and watch the disappearing state subsidy strangle the Kammeroper, knowing that they can pick up the pieces and hand them over to their other client.
Image credit: Réne Del Missier