• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Dominique Meyer

    Opera Lively interviewed in person Dominique Meyer, the Intendant (general director) of the Vienna State Opera, the man who currently occupies the position once held by Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Karl Böhm, and Herbert von Karajan. Speaking with the polite and soft-spoken administrator was a pleasure, and his interesting answers provide and inside view of the world-class operation of this magnificent company.

    This interview is part of our Central Europe coverage trip in the summer of 2018, when we visited four countries, seven cities, and eight opera companies where we attended sixteen performances in as many days and interviewed twenty-one artists. We gathered this material in a portal with links to all articles, reviews, and interviews. Click [here] to consult the portal, or else, click on Read More or on the title of this article, to read Mr. Meyer's words.



    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization.

    Biography

    The son of a diplomat, Dominique Meyer was born in Alsace, France, in 1955 and spent his childhood in France and Germany. In September 2010 he became Director of the Vienna State Opera.

    Between 1980 and 1984 Dominique Meyer worked as a commissioner at the French Ministry of Industry, where he was in charge of the departments of electronics and computer industries; he was also involved in the planning and foundation of France’s first CD-factory (the second in the world), the MPO in Averton. From 1984 to 1986 he was an advisor in the cabinet of the Minister of Culture Jack Lang, where he was responsible for the film and cultural industries. From 1986 to 1988 Dominique Meyer was an advisor to the presidents of the Paris Opéra Pierre Viot and Raymond Soubie.

    In 1988 he joined the cabinet of the Minister of Culture and Communication with responsibility for film and television. From 1989 to 1990 he was general director of the Paris Opéra (Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille). In 1991 he became a director in the cabinet of the Ministry of Communications and Media under Minister Catherine Tasca. From 1991 to 1993 he worked as an advisor in the cabinets of Prime Minister Edith Cresson and Pierre Bérégovoy with responsi- bility for the areas of cultural affairs and communications, youth affairs, education and sports. He subsequently held the position of general director of the Lausanne Opera from 1994 to 1999. From 1999 until the end of the 2009/2010 season he was general and artistic director of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.


    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization

    In the field of dance Dominique Meyer was from 1991 to 2007 president of the Ballet Angelin Preljocaj and was appointed honorary president in 2007. From 1995 to 1999 he was a member of the board of the Maurice Béjart Ballet in Lausanne as well as of the Prix de Lausanne dance competition. From 2006 to 2010 he was cashier on the board of the Foundation Nureyev.

    In the field of music he was president of the French Youth Orchestra from 2001 to 2010, since 2010 he has been the orchestra’s honorary president. From 1995 to 1999 he was a member of the board of directors of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. As treasurer of the ProQuartet he organized chamber music concerts and string quartet performances. He was artistic consultant to Riccardo Muti during the founding of the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in Piacenza. He is currently on the board of directors of the European Music Theatre Academy (EMA) of the University of Vienna as well as of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CNSMDP).

    In the fields of film and television Dominique Meyer was president of the committee “Tele- vision, drama and music” at the Centre National de la Cinématographie from 2000 to 2003 and is the author and director of the documentary film Eclats de Voix – Schallende Stimmen (Resonant Voices) about Wagner’s Ring-tetralogy, with Pierre Boulez, Patrice Chéreau, Jeffrey Tate, etc.

    Furthermore Dominique Meyer was researcher at the Institute of Science and Research at Paris IX Dauphine University from 1979 to 1980, assistant in market economy at Paris XIII University from 1979 to 1982, professor and historian of economics and economic concepts at Paris III University – INALCO from 1980 to 1988, professor of economics at Lyons II University from 1986 to 1988 and lecturer for the course Master Professionel Administration de la musique et du spectacle vivant at the University of Evry, Paris until 2010.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Dominique Meyer

    This is Opera Lively’s interview # 255. The interview happened in his beautiful office, where we were able to see the silver rose used in the house’s first production of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.


    The silver rose. Photo Opera Lively

    Copyright Opera Lively Press, all rights reserved. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Reproduction of small excerpts is authorized as long as the source is quoted and there is a link to this full article. Reproduction of the entire interview is only possible if permission is asked first: use the Contact Us link on the bottom of our pages.




    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – What is your vision for the company? What did you want to accomplish when you took over the reins, and how much of it you are indeed accomplishing?


    Detail of picture by Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
    Dominique Meyer – We are a repertory house that presents 300 performances per season, with 50 different operas and 10 or 12 ballets. When I arrived here, there was a strong difference between the premieres, the opening nights, and the other daily performances. My first wish was to raise the quality of each repertory production so that the audience would come into the house any day, and get a very well-prepared performance.

    My second wish was to open the repertoire in two directions: the Baroque, and modern and contemporary operas. Vienna Opera did not present pieces that were written before Mozart. The oldest opera here for a long time was Le Nozze di Figaro. When I was in Paris I presented many Baroque operas, so I thought it would be the right time to open this house to this repertoire. On the other side, I was willing to offer more pieces of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Then, my next project was to bring the ballet company to higher quality. I was a little bit scared in the beginning, because people questioned my effort for the ballet. Vienna is not a ballet city. I thought that this was really strange. If we pay 120 people in the ballet company, the results have to be at level.

    I had a fourth goal: to prepare the next generation of opera lovers, singers, and players. We engaged in a significant effort in the direction of children, with many initiatives such as staging children operas, and children ballet.

    The fifth goal was to get a more modern house. Among other actions, two of them were very important – one was to create a system of broadcasting. Now we broadcast through the Internet 45 different performances every year; this enabled a changed relationship with the large TV corporations. For example, this month of June 2018 we have presented five opera performances on the national channel ORF, with our own technique, which is much less expensive than the traditional broadcasting technique. It is the same quality, but really cheaper. We also use this streaming system to work with over 500 schools.

    The second great innovation that we have made was to change the subtitle system in the auditorium. We installed a tablet on each seat, with six different subtitle languages: German, of course, but also English, French, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. I hope in the near future to be able to add Spanish and Chinese.


    This one and the next three: Opera Lively photos of the tablet system







    OL – Wow! Incredible! The Met only has three languages.

    DM – Yes, our system is wonderful. Peter Gelb came to see it. I think he was impressed. You have to prepare the six texts, and if you consider that we perform 50 different operas every year, it is huge work, because you can’t just buy a pre-prepared text; we have to adapt it to our version. Moreover, you need to have for each language the same speed; this is not easy [laughs]; you have to control every translation.

    OL - What should we expect of the term of Bogdan Roščić, which starts in 2020? Do you know about his ideas? In what direction does he want to take the company?

    DM – I have a rule. I do not speak about my predecessors and I never speak about the successors. I wish him to be as happy as I am here. I wish him success.

    OL – I understand that your operating budget is about 100 million euros.

    DM – 118.

    OL – Of which about half comes from the Austrian government, right?

    DM – Almost half. The other half, we have to do all sorts of things. Private donors are not so keen to contribute here, unlike in the United States. It is a completely different system. The biggest part of the income is ticket sales. We have reached record sales seven years in a row, and this is the eighth year; I think we will have another record. We sold about 35 million euros in tickets, which is a very high figure in such a small city. Vienna, with 1.8 million inhabitants, is not a big city like New York. On top of that, one has to consider that ten thousand tickets are sold every night in Vienna for classical music, in such a small city.

    OL – So there is competition from all the other venues.

    DM – Yes. But we sell an average of 99% of the available tickets.

    OL – 99%?!

    DM – Yes, which is really a lot. Of course, the government wants us to have a large income. We are obliged to sell all the tickets. It is not that we are proud of reaching these figures. We breathe with relief when we reach these figures, because if we were not almost sold-out every night, it would be very difficult to balance the budget.

    OL – So, there are another 25 million euros or so to add up to the total. Where do those come from?

    DM – Oh, from many other sources. Several opera companies rent our productions. We have the restaurant, the bars, the tours; we have sponsors, so we do our fund-raising job.

    OL – 2019 will be the company’s 150th anniversary. What are you planning to do, to mark the occasion?

    DM – Big things. First, on the scientific side, we are organizing a few congresses, next season. I thought it would be a good occasion to bring up the whole history of opera in Vienna; not only the history of this theater. Many people here forgot that there is a rich and beautiful history before Mozart. Vienna was also a very important city in the Baroque period, but people do not know about that. It is the right occasion to bring this knowledge back to people’s minds. Second, of course we will produce a few books out of these congresses. We will have a book about the entire history of opera in Vienna and another one about the history of this house, which was founded in 1869, but was bombed during the Second World War. It was reconstructed and reopened in 1955, with Fidelio conducted by Karl Böhm.


    This one and the next three: Opera Lively photos of the building







    The house seems to be the same, but it is not. There are only four remaining parts of the former building. All the rest is completely new and has little to do with the old building, so there are two histories, and we will present that. In addition, we will issue two other wonderful books. One is a reproduction of a book issued when the opera house was constructed with all the plans, drawings, and designs. It is a beautiful book, and we will reissue it the same way. We will do the same for the current building because we also own all the plans and drawings; it is going to be beautiful.

    Then, the D-day, we will present a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss. [Editor’s note: May 25, 2019]. It is a great opera. He was the general director here from 1919 to 1924. Die Frau ohne Schatten, with the exception of the second version of Ariadne auf Naxos, is the only opera that he created for the Vienna Opera.

    Die Frau ohne Schatten will be 100 years old, at the same time. It makes sense. We have a wonderful cast. Christian Thielemann is conducting. We have a young stage director, Vincent Huguet; he was the last assistant director of Patrice Chéreau. All the singers love him, and he is very gifted. We have Nina Stemme singing for the first time the main role; Stephen Gould, Camilla Nylund, Evelyn Herlitzius …; it is an impressive, beautiful cast.

    [Editor’s note, here is the full information:
    May 25, 30, June 2, 6, 10.
    The premiere will be streamed live at https://www.staatsoperlive.com/en/live/
    Tickets: https://www.wiener-staatsoper.at/en/...te/2019-05-01/
    The performance will be on live stream
    Christian Thielemann, Conductor
    Vincent Huguet, Director
    Aurélie Maestre, Set Designer
    Caroline de Vivaise, Costume Designer
    Nina Stemme, Barak the Dyer's Wife
    Camilla Nylund, Empress
    Evelyn Herlitzius, Nurse
    Stephen Gould, Emperor
    Wolfgang Koch, Barak, the Dyer
    Bertrand Couderc, Lighting Designer, Video Artist
    Concert Association Vienna State Opera Chorus
    Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera]

    To celebrate 150 years of Vienna Opera only with a premiere would not be good. Who comes to premieres? The normal audience of a premiere opening night. But here, opera is the main interest for many people in this city. There is a great love for opera in every part of the society. There are anecdotes about taxi drivers who speak about opera, the hotel bellhops, the waiters in restaurants… They talk about opera; this is true. We have to open the doors.


    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization.


    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization.


    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization.


    Photo Credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn, used with authorization.

    The day after Die Frau ohne Schatten, in the afternoon, we have a performance of Dantons Tod by Gottfried von Einem [Editor’s note: it is also the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth], but in the evening [May 26, 2019] we organize a big open-air concert in the plaza. We will close the Ring Boulevard in front of the building; we want the orchestra to be outside, and the singers will sing from the windows of the opera house, and from the windows of the neighboring hotels and buildings. We want it to be a big popular party.

    OL – Die Frau ohne Schatten is my favorite opera by Strauss. I should try to come.

    DM – Do come! People will come from all over the world.

    OL - Please explain the relationship between the opera house and the Wiener Philharmoniker.

    DM – It is simple. The Wiener Philharmoniker is the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. They have two names, and two jobs. When they perform here at the State Opera, they are members of the opera house, like me, and I’m their boss. But 176 years ago they created an association which is organized by themselves, under the name of Wiener Philharmoniker, and they perform concerts. They can do operas but only in Salzburg. When they perform opera but not in Salzburg, they are called the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

    OL – Which is one of the top three orchestras in the world.

    DM – Yes, I think it is one of the top two, and I am convinced that it is the best opera orchestra in the world. They are fantastic. They play at a high level every night, and they like to play. Can you imagine? These people perform 300 times per year here in the house, and 80 symphony concerts, and they go the Salzburg in the summer, and play chamber music; it is crazy. They can perform Der Ring des Nibelungen by Wagner without orchestra rehearsal. It is just impressive!

    OL – You have the unusual practice of contracting with an independent company to review each performance, and you publish them in Der Neue Merker. Tell me more about this initiative.

    DM – Oh, this is completely independent. It was created by opera fans a long time ago. There is a review every day. I think it is good that people talk as much as they can about opera. Der Neue Merker is not the only one, because if you read the newspapers, there is no day without different reviews.

    OL – I am very impressed with this number of 50 to 60 operas and 10 ballets, with about 300 performances. This makes of the VSO one of the most prolific companies in the world. You often have the star singers here, such as Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, everybody. And then, you have the ensemble, made of younger singers, right? So, how do you select these people to ensure, like you said, the highest quality in every single performance, even when the huge names are not on stage?

    DM – The huge names are huge because of the quality of their singing. It is not just that they are stars. First of all, they are very good interpreters. Of course, if we present so many different titles, we have the opportunity to hire every big voice, every big star of the world. That is one point. The ensemble is really a treasury that we have. There are 60 to 70 singers in it. They are not all young. We have people who have stayed their whole life here. They sing and cover all the small roles. This is our secret. Because of them, we are able to play so many different operas, since we do not need to start rehearsals from scratch every time. This enables a shorter time of rehearsals for revivals.

    The other part of the ensemble is made of young singers. I like to find them. This is my favorite “game”. I like to be searching mushrooms [laughs]. I listen to over 800 singers every year. I am the chairman of many juries for competitions, and I try to find the best singers of each generation. I like to hire them very young, and to help them grow. This is the most beautiful work that you have to do. You need to select people in whom you believe, and to help them step by step, to find the right rhythm and the right roles, to help them to get better and not burn out, because if you go too fast it is very dangerous. You can destroy a voice with one role that is too heavy. So, I like that.

    We have very good pianists and very good stage director assistants, and they really learn the job. Last year we had fantastic singers in the ensemble, and we still have them. For instance, we have [Polish bass-baritone Tomasz] Konieczny who is one of the top four Wotans in the world; we have [Russian soprano] Aida Garifullina who sang in the concert that opened the FIFA World Cup seen by many million people; we have [South Korean] Jongmin Park; he is a young bass who will make his debut next year at the Metropolitan Opera; he is fantastic. We have a young tenor, a Chinese guy who is 27 and sings main roles here; I think he will make a great career. [Editor’s note – Mr. Meyer is talking about Jinxu Xiahou].

    We can play many operas only with the ensemble, such as La Bohème, at the highest level. It is just beautiful to see them grow, then appear in many important opera houses. For example, our young [Moldavian] soprano Valentina Nafornita sang 30 performances at the Opéra de Paris last season. I was proud of her.

    OL – For how long do they usually stay, before they go on to have free-lancer careers? I hear that some singers do ensemble work for a couple of years to learn the ropes, then they leave.

    DM – It varies. Aida Garifullina stayed six years, but now she comes back every year as a guest. Many have a dual contract. They stay five or six months per year as a permanent member of the ensemble and do other things the other half of the year. It is a nice life for these singers to be permanent here; if they have children, they can have a very stable life instead of always living in hotels and not seeing the family.

    For instance, we have one of the best sopranos in the world, [Ukrainian] Olga Bezsmertna; she won the competition Neue Stimmen of the Bertelsmann [foundation] a few years ago [2011]. She is stable here and does not guest so much out of Vienna because she has two small children and needs to take care of them. She takes them to school, goes to rehearsals, and in the evening she does the performance. For those who need to take care of their family, it is a very good system. In a few years when her children become a little bit older, she will fly to Milan, Berlin, Paris, London, and New York.

    [Editor’s note – let’s listen to her winning performance at the Neue Stimmen 2011]:



    OL – What is the relationship between Vienna and other companies, in terms of co-productions? Do you have your Vienna style, or do you believe in a sort of globalization of productions that are able to be equally successfully presented to different audiences in different countries?

    DM – We do not like to have always the same stuff on stage. In a great opera house, the productions have to reflect the mood, on a very high international level. I try to have stage directors coming from different cultures, with different styles. I try to find and adapt a solution for each opera. I have Italian, British, American stage directors; I have French, Germans… I do not want to do only Regietheater. It happens from time to time.

    I know many Germans, especially the ones writing in newspapers, who would want us to be completely German, but I do not want it. Austria is very independent. The Germans believe that they have to teach the Austrians what they should do, but the Austrians do not want to follow. I did not want to make of the Vienna State Opera the next German opera house. I like it to be international. For instance, this weekend we are finishing the season with the Nureyev Gala. The French director of our ballet, Manuel Legris, has a great program, but we have choreographers coming from the whole world.

    The last performance of the year is Falstaff staged by David McVicar in a beautiful production. I want the house to be international. I do not want every production to be done with the same style.

    OL – You have directed the Paris Opéra (Garnier and Bastille), the Théâtre des Champs Elisées, and Lausanne Opera. How do you contrast the VSO with these other companies? Did you have a similar vision there, or did you adapt it to their histories and circumstances?

    DM – It is very interesting, because you have to define your model for each opera house. They cannot be the same. For instance, Lausanne is in a small building with 1,000 seats, with a large opera house with a big pit not far away in Geneva. We had a jewel of a very good small chamber orchestra, and I thought we had to be complementary to the Geneva Opera. I had a small budget, so, I thought, “If we need to have an identity, I need to find a way to do it.” The way I thought would work, was that we would be the place for upcoming singers to start in big roles.

    I was helped by the audience there in Lausanne because they are not snobs. So, they could accept six, eight no-names on the poster. They thought, “Ah, we will find somebody new.” It was interesting. If you see the same posters twenty years later, you will notice that they all made superb careers. I had Natalie Dessay singing there, Angelika Kirchschlager, Christopher Ventris who is now one of the major Wagner singers; they were not known at the time, and now they are. That was the game to play, there.

    Of course, the Paris Opéra is an important international house, so you have to put together a large program with international standards and big operas; that was one point. Champs Elisées is a wonderful venue but it provides a mixed program with operas, symphony concerts, ballet, chamber music, and it is a private house with no subsidy from the city or from the state. That is also tricky in France because sponsorship is not organized like in the States. It is really hard to find the money. But I thought I did not want to compete with the Paris Opéra because I did not have the large orchestra and chorus. I had a small crew.

    I thought, “You have to bring a complement to the program of the two main opera houses in Paris,” the Opéra and the Châtelet, which is a city hall. I made a program based on Baroque revival, with all the major conductors: William Christie, Marc Minkowski, Christophe Rousset, Emmanuelle Haïm, these guys. We presented 38 Handel operas, and Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Lully. We created an audience for that, and it continues, to this day.

    OL – I have seen some of the DVDs; they are wonderful.

    DM – Yes. Here of course it is different; here the tradition of the house is that we provide a high profile international opera program that enables all the stars to be here, and like I said, we have an ensemble to let people grow.

    OL – You have mentioned the 20th and the 21st centuries. I am a big fan of contemporary opera. I actually interviewed George Benjamin and Salvatore Sciarrino among many other contemporary composers, and I published a book on Written on Skin with the full libretto, musical analysis, and interviews with the artists, (George himself, Martin Crimp, Katie Mitchell, Chris Purves, Barbara Hannigan, everybody). I try my best to promote contemporary opera. But when I publish reviews and interviews related to contemporary opera, they don’t get as read and as commented upon. It is more like a niche audience, which is a pity because we need to keep the art form alive. So, what are you doing for contemporary opera?

    DM – I have engaged in different efforts. I have presented many contemporary operas. The Tempest, for example, was our co-production with the Met. Other examples are The Three Sisters by [Péter] Eötvös, or Medea by Aribert Reimann, and they were was almost sold-out every time. So, we work a lot in order to get that.

    Now, for the anniversary season of the opera house, we thought that we cannot only consider the past; we have to be current; so we will present a new opera by an Austrian composer, Johannes Maria Staud, called Die Weiden. He just finished it for us. It was an adventure, a long process. Also, we are presenting another contemporary opera, Orest [by Manfred Trojahn]; this is interesting because we have The Trojans at the beginning of the season, then we have Elektra, then Orest.

    OL – Oh, I love The Trojans, I authored a book about it, too.

    DM - I like it very much. I think it deserves to be played here. It was not the case for a long, long time.

    OL – I have a question about your efforts to stimulate the contact of children with the operatic art form, but you have already mentioned some of the initiatives. You perform opera for children on the roof tent, right?

    DM – We do not have the roof tent any longer. This was a solution for a period, but we are not allowed anymore to have the tent. But we have a venue, a little theater, with 208 seats, about 15 meters from the entrance of the State Opera, and there, we perform two or three operas for children every year. Every season we have a new commissioned piece for children. This is very important, because children have no problem with contemporary music. It works easily for them. We do about 50 performances for children, per season. We presented an opera by a very young composer; she is twelve, Alma Deutscher.

    OL – Ah, yes! She is spectacular! She is a genius!

    DM – She is a genius. She is a wonderful little girl, very talented. She also plays the violin and the piano. Her opera was too long, two hours and forty minutes, and I said, “Honey, no children can support an opera of that length, so please do a reduction for me.”

    OL – Cinderella, right? [Editor’s note - The Vienna State Opera did a 75-minute version of it in January of 2018 – the opera had its full version presented in San José, California, to great acclaim]

    DM – Cinderella, yes. She was very successful. All the performances were completely sold-out, and we revived it.

    We did a second project that was very interesting. There is an association here in Vienna called Superar [www.superar.eu/], like El Systema in Venezuela. It is designed to bring poor children to music. We made an opera, The Arabian Princess, with an all-children chorus and youth singers from this Superar, and all the music is played by our stage orchestra, our band. It was a huge success, also sold-out, and we will revive it next season. It is a very good social project. I like that. We did Peter the Wolf in this little theater and it was always sold-out. We have a very good ballet school. You can easily bring children to classical music if you work hard for it.

    OL – You have the privilege of being in a city that loves opera. In our country, it is not always the same. Opera is very popular in German-speaking countries but unfortunately not as much in some other countries, even Italy, these days. What are your recommendations for the survival and renovation of the art form? Do you have a piece of advice to give us, to increase the popularity of opera in the United States?

    DM – It is very difficult to give advice because I am not a teacher and I do not believe that I have the truth in my pocket. But I think that there are two things to be done. One, is a massive effort in the direction of children. The problem is always to motivate the public to go for the first time into an opera house. But if you avoid the problem by bringing the kids into the opera house very young, then you can hope. People who love opera in their youth, love opera for their entire life.

    The second point is that one should not exaggerate with ticket prices. Many people think that it is normal to pay two, three hundred euros for a seat, but I think it is not normal. Here, for instance, we have a wonderful tradition, and I do care about that. We have 580 tickets for standing room, and we sell them the day of the performance, for 3 or 4 euros.


    Opera Lively photo of the standing room section

    It is very cheap, less than a cup of coffee. Of course, the government always wants me to increase ticket prices. I do not do it, because this is the secret. Open the possibility for the young people to come to the opera house, and they will come.

    OL – Once you leave your position here, what are your plans? What do you want to do next?

    DM – I want to continue to do my job in another place. I am a very happy man. I enjoy my job. I am here every day from 8 o’clock in the morning until very late. I have lots of experience. I know all the singers of the world, all the conductors, all about this business. I would like to simply continue in another city, another theater. I was spoiled here. This is a wonderful theater and a wonderful audience, very warm, very present. The crew of the State Opera is a wonderful one. They are very efficient, very nice. There are not too many union problems. This is like a little paradise, and I enjoy every day I spend here. I want to find another place where I can enjoy this job.

    OL – You started in very different positions. You were the Commissioner of the French Ministry of Industry, in charge of the Department of Electronics. You worked with computers. How did you get to opera and classical music?

    DM – I had a double life. [laughs] I was working in the Ministry during the day and I was going to concerts or to opera performances every night. It was a big part of my life. When I was at the Ministry of Industry, I worked a lot in order to enable the first French CD factory, which was the second in the world. The Minister of Culture Jack Lang wanted to know about that, and he asked me to explain it to him. I went to him, and he said, “I need to have someone like you working with me.” And he hired me, and I was in charge of financing the motion pictures industry. I did that, and it was very nice, a very interesting job. Then my minister lost the elections, and I had to find another job. I found one at the Paris Opéra. Then the president of the Paris Opéra liked me, and took me with him. That was the beginning.

    OL – How are you as a person? You seem to be very convivial.

    DM – Yes, I am a very happy man. I am never loud; I am cool. If I have a decision to make, I make it. If I have something to say because there was a mistake or a problem, I do it, but I try to respect the person. When I came here, for instance, I could have changed the people, but I did not replace anybody. I said to the crew, “I will keep you with me, but I just want a few rules. First, to be polite. I want people to say hello, thank you, please. Second, I want you to be able to tell the difference between what is urgent and what is not; what is important and what is not. Third, I want you to work with your brain. I do not want to work with puppets. It is not my thing.”

    And I said “Please, don’t ever make a big deal of a small problem, because this is the cancer of an organization. The drama needs to be on the stage, not in the offices.” [laughs] I said, “If there is a mistake, try to find a solution instead of trying to find someone who is guilty.” Because if you spend your time to decide who is guilty, people will never say the truth. They will hide things. I do not want them to hide things from me. Then I said, “I do not want people to be loud and nervous because it is not helpful. If you see me climbing the curtains, you are keen to follow me, but please don’t start it first.” [laughs] Now I am spoiled, because they work like that, and it is a very good atmosphere.

    I am close to my people. I know everyone here. We have 970 people working here. I go twice a day to the stage to say hello to the stagehands and be with them; I go see the people selling the tickets; I do two or three tours of the offices every day. I think this is the best way: to be close to the people who work here.

    OL – Thank you so much. That is about what I had in terms of questions. I wanted to tell you that my sister once came here as a tourist and she e-mailed me to say, “There is an opera performance at the Vienna State Opera tonight but there are no big names, I don’t think I should go. Do you know these singers? Should I go?” I said, “Look, it’s the Vienna State Opera; I think you should go!”

    DM – [Laughs]

    OL – And I said, “Let me look these singers up, for you.” So I listened to YouTube clips, and they weren’t well-known singers but they were all wonderful. She then decided to attend the performance, and then she later said, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting such high quality because I didn’t know the singers, but you were right, they were excellent.”

    DM – Yes, this is important. Two months ago, we were in tour in Aix-en-Provence. Renaud Capuçon organizes now an Easter Festival, and he wanted me to go with Figaro. OK, I said, “Pleased to go,” because there is this tradition of Mozart in the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in the summer, and of course I was fed these opera performances in Aix when I was younger, and I liked them. I thought, “I will be happy to be there, and of course, people will be surprised because there is no big name in the cast, but after the last note, there will be a standing ovation.” And that’s what happened. They were so happy to discover these people! I can tell you that they will be big names in a few years.

    This is what I like, because every artistic director is able to make a contract with Anna Netrebko or Elina Garanca if they have the time, a good organization, and money, but I think it is more difficult to find the newcomers and give them the resources. In our last performance of the season, we have Falstaff by Verdi, and only two roles have known singers.


    Opera Lively photos of the curtain calls in Falstaff at the Vienna State Opera

    OL – Yes, Ambrogio Maestri and Chris Maltman. I am interviewing Maestri tomorrow.

    DM – I was a juror in the competition that he won when he started. So, Falstaff and Ford are guests, but all the other performers come from the house. Jimmy Conlon came and sat in the chair that you are using today, and said, “Look, I’m completely surprised by the level of these people, because I didn’t know them.”

    OL – Thank you so much for a very informative interview!


    ​Dominique Meyer and Luiz Gazzola - Opera Lively photo taken in less than ideal conditions

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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      Another terrific interview!


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