Vienna state opera's new chief Meyer to expand repertoire

31st August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The new French director of Vienna's famed opera house, Dominique Meyer, has big plans for his establishment: more Mozart, newer works, but also a reform of the ballet company and more world tours.

"Of course, one of our aims with our new general music director Franz Welser-Moest is to bring Mozart back to the forefront here," Meyer, 54, told AFP in an interview at his office in the grand Staatsoper building.

Baroque opera, banished under Meyer's predecessor, Romanian-born Ioan Holender, will also experience a comeback.

But the prestigious Staatsoper will not only reexamine the classics: it also plans to bring in more modern and contemporary works, Meyer vowed.

"We are always looking to expand our repertoire and I think one of the important developments in the international repertoire over the last 20 years has been (Czech composer Leos) Janacek," noted Meyer.

"They are beautiful operas, very beautiful music, fantastic libretti... It's almost normal to add these operas to the programme."

Meyer, who last headed the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, takes the helm at the Vienna State Opera on September 1 with a distinguished team.

Besides the 49-year-old Welser-Moest, whom Meyer has described as "one of the most talented conductors of his generation", he has named former Paris Opera star dancer Manuel Legris, 45, to take over as director of the Vienna Opera Ballet.

This should help give the company the international renown it deserves, according to Meyer.

"We are trying to awaken international interest in this Vienna ballet, which after all is a big ballet, with some 100 dancers."

"Tours are already planned to Japan, the United States, England and Spain. There is a very large demand."

At least nine premieres, including works by "West Side Story" choreographer Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and a Rudolf Nureyev Gala, are on the programme, as well as reforms to the ballet's structure itself, by introducing a new category of principal dancers.

The Vienna ballet currently consists of just a corps and a few soloists, relying on guest dancers to provide any star power.

"I believe that the calling card of a great ballet is also its principals. You can't imagine the Paris Opera without its 'etoiles,' that is inconceivable," noted Meyer.

Still, "the heart of this house is the orchestra: the Vienna Philharmonic," he said.

The Philharmonic and the State Opera orchestra -- which share many of the same musicians -- will embark on a series of joint tours: "that will allow us to organise Viennese events, centred on Viennese music."

Meyer is the first Frenchman to head the prestigious Vienna Opera, replacing Holender who ruled over productions for 18 years but had lately come under increasing fire from critics for his lack of innovation.

Under its new general manager, the number of original productions at the 140-year-old opera house will increase from four to six per season, with the return also of two modern operas that have long been missing from the Staatsoper's repertoire: Janacek's "Katia Kabanova" and "Cardillac" by German composer Paul Hindemith.

The beginning of Meyer's reign will also see stagings of the opera "Alcina" by baroque composer George Frideric Handel, as well as two works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro", for which rehearsals have already begun.

"It's important to get the idea of quality through. Whether it takes three months or six or nine, I don't care, we have to move forward," Meyer told AFP.

"I'm a very patient man, I want to see that there is progress and that people are committed to making progress. That's what interests me: movement."

© 2010 AFP

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