Posts Tagged ‘Stephane Lissner’

Lyon and Paris Fail the Future

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

By: Frank Cadenhead.  The Tuesday news of the failure to find a replacement for Serge Dorny at the Opéra National de Lyon leaves opera in France’s second-largest city adrift. The announcement by the selection committee indicates that all of the finalist, and their proposals for season 2021-2022 and beyond, have been found insufficient. The members of selection committee, made up of city, regional and national officials plus the Chairman of the opera’s board of directors, have indicated that the process will begin again soon.

This means further delays in planning for the 2021-22 season and beyond. It was April of last year when the Bavarian State Opera announced that Dorny would take over. He is now a regular visitor to Munich and planning their future seasons, including his first, 2021-22, for over a year now.

There is the same problem with the Opéra de Paris. Everyone knows that every major opera house is very seriously planning for the next three or four years. Yet the top five contenders to succeed Stéphane Lissner in Paris, starting with that same 2021-22 season, were submitted to the Élysée Palace for President Macron’s final say in April. There is still no word as to when any announcement might be made.

There might have been a complication in Lyon. There are reports that a letter was sent to the selection committee by the principle union of artists at the opera which cautioned against one candidate, the top assistant to Mr. Dorny. The letter cautioned against his selection because his role was basically administrative and his lack of major artistic or innovative credentials.

Finding a replacement for Dorny might be hard. Since his arrival in 2003, Lyon’s opera, the second only after Paris, has moved dramatically into the larger international opera scene and won awards and recognition for its achievements. The repertory now includes little-known operas, a good slice of 20th Century works and new compositions. With creative and visionary productions, his opera house is full and the average age is one of the lowest in Europe.

Dorny would have been a likely candidate in Paris when it became known that Lissner would not be extended. But the failure of the opera’s board to move on this issue and with no leadership from the Ministry of Culture, etc. it was Munich which secured his services. Lyon will be trying again to find a replacement for Dorny and future planning remains in limbo. Both companies are now saddled with the job of working with the 2021-22 leftovers from all the other major houses.

Waiting… Waiting… Waiting…

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

By Frank Cadenhead: The article in today’s Le Figaro could not conceal the anger and frustration. The title “Will the Opéra de Paris Have a Program in 2021?” points to the failure of the opera administration, the Ministry of Culture and the French President Macron himself to finally name a successor to Stephane Lissner for the 2021-22 season. Why this process was not planned a year or two earlier suggests a failure of the current board and management and the weeks that are floating by waiting for the President of the Republic to name a name is only a small number compared with the total time wasted.

The short list, published April 19, is composed of Dominique Meyer, now heading the Vienna State Opera, Olivier Mantei, the director of the Opéra-Comique, Peter de Caluwe, currently in charge at La Monnaie in Brussels and Alexander Neef, heading Toronto’s opera. Macron did not delegate his responsibility in naming the opera head to the Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, so, as weeks pass, the silence continues. While Macron is dealing with a declining Yellow Vest protest and the fire at Notre Dame, other things do not get his attention.

Since opera companies plan several years in advance, this failure to plan will deal a serious blow to the incoming steward. The article notes that the Met and Madrid’s Teatro Real are now planning for 2023-24 and London, Vienna and Munich already have the productions and co-productions for 2022-23. For singers, the article notes, we are not just talking about firming up dates for Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko. Michel Franck, director of the Théàtre des Champs-Élysées is quoted in the article as saying “I contacted Stéphane Degout and Stanislas de Barbeyrac for a production in 2022 and I am not sure to have either.” The article notes that major opera directors, like Tchernaikov or Warlikowski, who only work in opera, are booked until 2023. They can only do three or four productions a year and ask for six to eight weeks of rehearsals.

One of the names which could have been on the list of candidates is Serge Dorny, heading the Opéra de Lyon. Over the years he took a regional opera company to the top ranks in Europe. The magazine Opernwelt named Lyon the Opera House of the Year in 2017, only the second time that an opera house outside Germany received that accolade. Dorny, however, was snatched up by the Bavarian State Opera for the 2021-22 season and beyond and has been at work in Munich for over a year planning future seasons.

The new director would certainly have to plan creatively and, the article suggests, the Paris Opéra will need to be “reinvented.” The new director will also need to name a successor to the highly regarded music director Philippe Jordan, among many other tasks made much harder by the delay.

Random Musings On the Paris Music Scene

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

By Frank Cadenhead: The short list of candidates to be the incoming GM of the Opera National de Paris has been known for a few weeks now and we expect an announcement any day. President Macron, however, has been occupied with other matters, not the least of which is the Notre Dame catastrophe of yesterday afternoon. I was at the Apple Store a few meters from the Palais Garnier opera house. It was late afternoon when I exited and I saw yellowish smoke in the sky and, walking to the Metro, saw emergency vehicles and police cars passing, sirens blaring and threading their way between rush-hour traffic. It was only when I got home that the news hit.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is, of course, one of the iconic symbols of France and its rich heritage. We learn this morning that the exterior structure is secure but the interior has sustained damage in the range of 70%. News, just minutes old, declares that the main organ, built by Francois Thierry in the 1730s, has survived the conflagration.

Because of the French Catholic tendency to have their cathedrals reach for the sky, the vast interior spaces do not offer a comfortable acoustic setting. While concerts are a frequent feature in the Notre Dame schedule, they are very seldom important or feature major musical groups. Notes frequently tend to wander around the vast spaces and return to the stage at inappropriate times. Music in the less ambitious Protestant German churches, for example, do not have acoustical problems to that extent. The temporary absence of the cathedral from the Paris music scene will not have an important impact on the local music scene.

What will have an Impact is more delay in naming a successor to Stephane Lissner at the Paris Opera. Lissner’ mandate ends in July 2021 and the Élysée Palace announcement has been expected for a few weeks now. It is generally known that opera houses plan at least three years in advance. The Opéra is always competing with the other top companies for star singers and directors so Paris is already hurt. Serge Dorny, who leaves the transformed Opéra National de Lyon to head the Munich State Opera at the same time, was named in March of last year and certainly has his own Munich staff busy planing rep and schedules for 2021-2022 and beyond.

Names still on the list are Peter de Caluwe (La Monnaie de Bruxelles), Christophe Ghristi (Capitole de Toulouse), Alexander Neef (Opéra de Toronto), Joan Matabosch (Teatro Real in Madrid), Jean-Marie Blanchard (ex-director of the Grand théâtre de Genève), Olivier Mantei (Opéra Comique), Jean-Louis Grinda (Opéra de Monte-Carlo), Dominique Meyer (Vienna State Opera), Laurent Joyeux (Opéra de Dijon) et Marc Minkowski (Opéra de Bordeaux).

The Orchestre de Paris season is filled with talented conductors, some being looked at to replace Daniel Harding when his three year term ends with this season. Women are a feature of the next season and some have noted particularly that American conductor Karina Canellakis is conducting the opening concert September 4th and 5th and one other in the season. She shares the season with Susanna Malkki, Martin Alsop, Simon Young and young Corinne Niemeyer. Male guests include Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Francois-Xavier Roth, Christoph von Dohnányi, Herbert Blomstedt and Valery Gergiev.

Future Changes at the Paris Opera

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead

September 13, 2018. The French website ForumOpé posted a 58 word note on Tuesday which announced something which has not appeared in the major press. It reported that the Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen, has already told Stéphane Lissner that his current term as director of the Opéra national de Paris would not be extended. He will leave, therefore, in 2021. The last sentence notes that the decision was apparently a result of a “bilan mitigé” (which Google translates as “mixed results”) but did not make clear whose opinion this might be. This post has since been deleted. It did, however, set off a storm of writing in the press which confirmed the story and acknowledged that the Culture Ministry is now looking for a replacement. Given the four or five year pre-planning for opera houses, the search is already somewhat tardy. A complication of this Forum Opéra post is that its chief editor, Sylvain Fort, is now in charge of relations with the press for the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. ForumOpé had spoken strongly against Lissner’s alterations of boxes at the Palais Garnier and posted other criticisms of his leadership so the since-deleted “bilan mitigé” comment might been a bridge too far between Fort’s new role and his editorial role at the website.

Lissner, director since July of 2014, will be 68 in 2021 and above the age of retirement for government positions. Some imagined that he might get a waiver, as has been done in the past, and continue for another three years. He has included more advanced staging from controversial directors and has balanced the books despite the annual reduction in government generosity by doubling the income from private sponsors from 10 million to 20 million euros annually. Attendance figures at the two houses are always in the high 90s.

Lissner’s past history is impressive: Théâtre du Châtelet (1988-1997), Aix-en-Provence Festival (1998-2006). At those same periods, Lissner directed two theaters with one of which, the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, he co-directed with theater legend Peter Brook.  Lissner was the first non-Italian to lead the La Scala opera company, 2005 – 2012. Moving on from seven years at the Aix-en-Provence festival (which has almost no government support) he was aware that major commercial brands might be interested in contributing to, and receiving recognition from, the legendary company. With this new financial source, and more challenging programming, he restored the balance sheet and standing of the historic theater after a long period of decline.

For the period beginning in 2014, It was generally accepted that he, or Serge Dorny of the Opéra National de Lyon, might be the logical successor to the conservative Nicolas Joel to take the Paris Opera to a new level of artistic and financial success. Lissner, coming from the La Scala rescue, seemed the careful choice but his programming, productions and casting, while important, maybe lacks a particular flare to garner the international attention many in France would like to see. The artistically adventurous Dorny, who took a plodding regional company in Lyon into the international spotlight, is now only 58 and would still be high on anyone’s list for Paris but is now unavailable: in March, he was named the new intendant of the Bavarian State Opera to start in 2021 and is already spending some of his time in Munich. Dorny’s Opéra national de Lyon now has a broad and challenging repertory and, importantly, the full houses have an average age much younger than when he arrived.

Lissner was the first non-Italian to lead La Scala and Dominique Meyer was the first non-Germanic to lead the VSO. Among names who might take over in Paris, note that Dominique Meyer is approaching his final season, 2019-2020, at the Vienna State Opera. Meyer will be 65 in 2020 and his ten year term saw steady direction and solid attendance. Radical productions were avoided, outrage was seldom heard and conservative Vienna was satisfied. There is a separate company, the Theater an der Wien, whose mission is to probe the edges of modern opera, so Meyer’s job, to continue the tradition of the VSO, was not subject to controversy.  He imported Manuel Legris from the Paris Opera Ballet who revived the moribund ballet and brought it positive international attention. Meyer could be under consideration but there has been some movement in regional companies in France to look to a younger generation for a fresh approach to opera. Nothing has been leaked about a Culture Ministry search committee or have any candidate names been hinted at. At least we know that the process has begun.

A Healthy Paris Opera

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

By: Frank Cadenhead

The numbers for the Opéra national de Paris’ 2015-2016 season, recently released, gives a positive impression despite the effects of the murderous series of terrorist attacks on the 13th of November of last year. Attendance has remained steady and private donations are up. The attack on the Bataclan Theater, which lasted over three hours and killed 97 of the total 130 that evening, would have a major effect on the performing arts in most cities but Parisians continued to buy tickets. All venues were closed for a bit less than a week but, when they resumed, the public was there. The Bataclan opened again on the anniversary of the attack with a concert by Sting.

The government made an effort to compensate for the loss of sales for the week performances where shut down but it was only for the major venues and strictly related to lost revenue from the closure. It was not intended to cover the effect of the tourism slide. Tourism in Paris fell in the area of 15 to 20 percent and tourist often buy tickets to the opera. This was evident in the drop in income the Opéra collects from tours to the iconic Palais Garnier. Some 730,000 tickets were sold in the previous period compared with 556,000 for the 2015-2016 season.

Support from public sources, the national government and regional and city governments, has been steadily slipping noted Stéphane Lissner, the opera director. In 2010, for example, public support was 105.5 million Euros and is now 95.7 million. It still represents 47% of the budget, but makes increased private support all the more important. There is some hope that the announced 5.5% increase in the government budget for the arts for 2017 might begin to reverse this trend. Despite these problems, however, the ONP was in the red only 200,000 Euros for the 2015-2016 season compared with a 3.7 million Euro surplus the previous period.

Fortunately, Lissner’s effort to increase private sponsorship was successful and contributed income from corporations alone increased by 40%. Major names like Dior, Rolex, Total and BNP are among corporations on the donor list. As a total part of the budget receipts for the reporting period, 30% represents individual and corporate donations, a figure what was in the single digits only a few years ago.

While the opera managed a 92.65% occupancy for the past season, it was a slightly lower that the previous season and would also have been affected by the dip in tourism in France. Ticket income was down from 68.5 million euros to 64.1 million. The Opéra also had four performances cancelled because of strikes by opera unions in sympathy with national unions opposed to a government effort to contain social expenditures. The departure of Benjamin Millepied from the ONP’s ballet in early 2016 did not seem to hurt seat sales or private donations and, in general, two thirds of private donors increased their support level.

Some figures in the 2015-2016 report include a total budget of 200.2 million Euros, a payroll of 114 million (a 2.25% drop), 802,921 spectators for 362 performances (opera, ballet, concerts), tickets sold on the internet, 56.8% and the average audience age is an agreeably fresh 46 with the under 28s comprising 17.1% of that audience.

Those Incredible Shrinking Budgets!

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

By: Frank Cadenhead

Since 2008, the world economies have been flat. Governments have managed to maintain the appearance of “business as usual” but world-wide graphs of economic activity have been just plugging along without any noticeable uptick. What this means is that every town, region and country in the Western world have been struggling to balance their books at the end of the financial year in the face of increasing demands, subtile inflation and flat receipts. When roads need repair and hospitals need additional staff, the arts budget, however sacred in Europe, sometimes pays the price.

One of France’s most famous exports, besides foie gras, has been the original-instruments group Les Arts Florissants and their renowned leader, William Christie. For a couple of decades, he and “Les Arts” have had a home for part of the year in Caen, in the north of France. The Ministry of Culture made an effort to decentralize music activity from being concentrated in Paris and did this by designating a major part of their budget to regional and city governments. These entities also contributed a minor share and have played host to many musical groups. The groups are active with local conservatories and impacted the community in a variety of ways. One major bonus was, for the lucky citizens of Caen, to see the Les Arts Florissants productions before their sold-out appearances in Paris, London or New York. The end of this subvention meant little to Les Arts Florissant, already with a significant base in Paris, and some were undoubtedly happy to avoid the frequent travel north. Their budget has grown over the years and the loss of a half-million euros in receipts was not significant.

The following year it was the turn of the second most-known French baroque group, Les Musiciens du Louvre and their popular leader Marc Minkowski who had been spending a part of their year in Grenoble, at the foot of the French Alps. Like Les Arts Florissants, they too are well established in Paris and Minkowski was more and more away with his conducting career. The orchestra’s reduced activity in Grenoble was not too harmful and they still occasionally perform there and retain their local visibility.

This year, it is the turn of baroque ensemble Le Concert d’Astrée and their leader, Emmanuelle Haïm. Last month it was revealed that the city of Lille, which has hosted this group that is partnered with their opera company, cut their current budget 25% and the regional government sliced 40% off their contribution. This sent the group reeling and trying to find a way to keep their schedule which, like most other internationally honored orchestras, projects out two or three years.

What can these baroque orchestra do? Cutting the number of musicians is a body blow to these groups. Unlike symphony orchestras with some possibility to reduce the full time total number, these chamber groups are already just the right number of instrumentalists needed and their choirs are lean too. Administrative staffs are already at the minimum and reducing the number of performances reduces the ticket income.

With the decline in public support, the private sector seems an obvious source. The problem is that French arts organizations, like their German counterparts, have a long history of government support for their activities and their experience in raising private funds is, literally, non-existant. American groups have an entire department dedicated to fund-raising and this is often half or more of the total number of staff, apart from the talent. They have multi-year plans, skilled fund-raisers on the payroll and wide community outreach. French organizations usually have none of this and the French public has little experience supporting the arts.

There are some exceptions but they generally prove the rule. The Aix-en-Provence Festival, for example, has almost no support at all from any government, local or national, and their budget is made up of ticket sales and corporate sponsorship. There are individuals who write a check also at Aix, as with other arts organizations, but this is usually a very small part of any financial picture in France. Stéphane Lissner, whose fund-raising abilities kept the Aix-en-Provence Festival thriving, was a new sort of arts leader Europe needed.

His talents created a miracle when, in 2005, he was brought in to save the iconic La Scala Opera of Milan, teetering on the brink of collapse. He restored it with world-class artistry but also knew how to make the La Scala “brand” attractive for Italian companies who provided the support the government withheld. He is now in his second year as head of the Paris Opera and the challenges of restoring that company to the top level of world opera. Can he make the La Scala miracle work for the Paris Opera?

Garnier_LumieresThere was a toe in the water even before he arrived. A multi-year restoration project of the Opéra’s Palais Garnier was finished and the exterior gleams like new in the sun. A little hole in the plan was that funds were used up before the restoration of the belt of sixty major light fixtures Charles Garnier installed around the exterior of the house. The Opéra announced an “Adopt a Light Fixture” program to cover this cost and it was, surprising everyone, oversubscribed by more than 50%.

We can see a bit of the new when Lissner, last month, announced his new “Third Stage,” a place on the opera’s website for short videos by independent filmmakers on the subject of opera. The international jewelry name, “Van Clef & Arpels,” is featured prominently on the opening page.

But it is never easy at the Opéra de Paris. Just this week, it was discovered that an employee who happens to be a union representative, was using his company portable phone while he was on vacation in Spain in July and August. Frequent travelers know how the extraordinary cost of “roaming charges” can add up but this guy was apparently unaware. Using his phone constantly to speak to others in the union racked up an astonishing 52,000 euros ($57,000 dollars).

What he was undoubtedly talking about that summer was the impending strike action by the unions of the Opéra de Paris. The September 5 opening night of Madame Butterfly at the Opera Bastille and the opening night of Platée of Rameau at Palais Garnier September 7 were both canceled by strikes and tickets were either refunded or exchanged. It is reported that these two events cost the opera something like 400,000 euros in lost revenue. Negotiations are still ongoing but no strikes have been announced for the immediate future.

But, in any case, a loss like that has to have an impact on the bottom line and two items in the media in the last few days show that the public can be interested in these budget issues. The first opera cost features a ton and a half Charolais steer who makes an appearance in the new production of Schoenberg’s opera, Moses und Aron. This impressive animal, named “Easy Rider,” was seen, with his two costumed handlers, in the second act as a vague representative of the biblical “Golden Calf” in the libretto. The cost of his travel up from Sologne in the center of France, his care and feeding and his appearances on the Bastille stage were listed as some forty-thousand euros. Many lovers of opera often do not want to know the reality of what these elaborate spectacle, which run only for a few weeks, might actually cost. It has always been and will remain, an uncomfortable subject. The Minister of Culture acknowledged receiving a petition objecting to the use of live animals in opera production which has some 21,000 signatures.

As was written in our Musical America story,, another petition is gaining signatures for an even hotter subject. The Palais Garnier, one of the two Paris houses of the Opéra and, unsurprisingly, a certified French historical monument, was the subject of some interior tampering. Major partitions were put on rails so that they could be moved so that 30 extra seats could be added and sold. The two levels of loges facing the stage have been altered and when these partitions are removed, on however a temporary basis, the “before” and “after” image is sad.

Growth for European economies would not only make more people rich, but it would increase government revenue and begin to ease the long term stress for many performing arts groups which depend on government support.