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Salzburg Festival Names New Director

Salzburg in summer: Mozart city or hub of the avant-garde? Most visitors choose the former.

The Salzburg Festival yesterday announced the name of its next artistic director when Jurgen Flimm steps down in 2011. It will be Alexander Pereira.

Alexander Pereira, Salzburg's next Intendant.

Pereira has run the Zurich Opera since 1991. His accomplishments there have somehow not gotten onto the radar in the United States as much as they deserve. Since he took over, the company has bucked conventional operatic economic wisdom. Most repertory companies do four or five new productions a year; the Zurich Opera does twelve or more. Many of these new productions are sponsored by big businesses – Credit Suisse, UBS – happy to have their name on the program. Because new productions invariably attract press attention (especially in Europe, where distances are smaller and critics often travel to other capitals for significant premieres), the Zurich Opera is always in the headlines. Because the opera does so many productions, it doesn’t have as much riding on any one of them. This can lead to a rather cavalier attitude in some cases, but it also means that the company offers a diet of unusual repertory and can lure star singers in to do roles they’ve always dreamed of doing and haven’t been offered elsewhere: like Paisiello’s “Nina” for Cecilia Bartoli.
(read more after the jump)

For a while, this was a very happy story: Pereira’s unconventional background (he was a successful businessman for many years before turning his hobby into his profession) allowed outside-the-box thinking that got results. But there’s truth to what Peter Jonas of the Bavarian State Opera once said to me: no one should stay in one of these leading Intendant jobs for more than ten years, because you burn out. Routine is not helpful when you’re running a creative establishment. I’ve sensed some stagnation in the Zurich program, and it’s seemed for a while that it was time for Pereira to move on. In fact, his name has come up for years now every time a major European opera position has come free (Munich, Vienna, even Salzburg – in 2001).

It never worked out. It may have been that Pereira, who had a pretty free hand in Zurich, couldn’t get terms he liked. His unorthodox approach may have put off some of those in power; in Europe, of course, these director jobs are partly political appointments since most of them are funded with public monies. (Even the Zurich opera, which moved farther away from a state-supported model than most houses.)

In any case, after all these years, Pereira, who is Austrian, is going home – to one of the best and most visible jobs in European arts management. And Salzburg is ripe for a new strong hand. After the controversial tenure of Gerard Mortier, the festival has been led adequately by Peter Ruzicka and then Flimm. There were good things during this period – notably staging all 22 of Mozart’s operas during Mozart’s 250th anniversary year in 2006 -- and Flimm, who was director of theater at Salzburg for a time before taking over the whole thing, has had some decent ideas. But since opera is booked so far in advance, his departure is being announced when he is only halfway through his tenure; he has three more summers before his contract ends in October, 2011.

And now the focus will start to shift to the Pereira years. Franz Welser-Möst, the conductor who was long music director in Zürich and who will take over in the same role at the Vienna State Opera in September, 2010, will certainly play a role, since the Vienna Philharmonic (whose players also serve as the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera) has its summer home in Salzburg. That, for some, is a mixed blessing. But more generally, I wonder how Pereira's unconventional approach will translate in the context of a summer festival. I’d guess that artistically he may seem more conservative than Mortier’s radical unorthodoxy. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

By Anne Midgette  |  May 20, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  international , news  
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Anne --- Thanks for the information on Salzburg. For the last 10 years, we usually attend the summer festival for at least a few days. Skipped this year because of the economy, and a lack of any operas of interest.

Posted by: BethesdaFan | May 20, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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