Friday, 1 June 2012

No more Mr Nice Geyer

If you want a friend in this town...
After Matthias Hartmann, Roland Geyer used to be the most likeable Intendant in Vienna. But lately the Theater an der Wien boss has shown a ruthless streak, and I’m left scratching my head about what he hopes to achieve.

Take the William Friedkin/Hoffmann scrap. (In a nutshell: the production premiered in March to mixed reviews; soon after Friedkin was unceremoniously fired and the news announced that Geyer himself will restage the opera for its second outing in July). I thought Friedkin’s worst sin was superficiality, and am inclined to put harsh dismissals from critics who nevertheless mumbled flattering things about the costumes of Jérôme Deschamps’ Mahagonny down to local politics (M. le Staatsoperndirecteur’s pocket is nice and warm). It might also be said that Hollywood is not the usual place one goes looking for thought-provoking Regie, and Friedkin’s past form with opera is well-documented (‘fizzy’, ‘flamboyantly farcical’, ‘frivolous’). And if the TadW is now concerned with underwhelming productions then surely second thoughts are merited about more Gluck from Torsten Fischer, among other things – naturally I root for this house more than the Staatsoper, but productions I haven’t found myself qualifying in some way have been thin on the ground this season. Anyway, having never directed an opera Geyer now takes over at incredibly short notice a production in which everything bar the sets (on which an agreement has been reached) will have to be substantially overhauled to avoid legal complications. Even with Petra Haidvogel as backseat driver I will be amazed if this comes off smoothly.

In other news, the hostile takeover of the Kammeroper has now come full circle with this week’s announcement of five new productions for 2012-3 under the mouthful of an aegis ‘Theater an der Wien in der Kammeroper’. The two highlights are Orlando and a new chamber opera by Hans-Jürgen von Bose; I am not sure what attraction La Bohème compressed into 90 minutes is supposed to hold, and though a Curlew River/The Prodigal Son double bill spares Vienna a Britten centenary drought, it should rightly be counted as a Neue Oper Wien rather than TadW premiere. Echoing the old Kammeroper’s commitment to fostering new singing talent the TadW has set up a new Young Artists programme-cum-ensemble, from which all the operas will be cast; in addition, seven ‘JET’ soloists will give recitals during the season. One thing to be said for the change of hands is that budgets are likely to be managed more efficiently (never saying no to directors in October always led to a drop in production values come May under the old regime), though all things considered there’s barely an artistic cigarette paper between this and what routinely came before, except that before they were forced to scale back their season the old Kammeroper would put on six new productions, four of which I could get enthusiastic about. If this is all there is to the TadW’s creative destruction then it is deeply regrettable that Isabella Gabor and Holger Bleck were forcibly relieved of their passionately-run opera company in such appalling fashion.

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