Serge Dorny hits back: ‘I was not given enough info to do the job’

Fired in Dresden on Friday before he could start work as general director of the Semper Oper, the ex-Lyon director Serge Dorny has published an open letter (in German) accusing the Saxon authorities of not playing straight with him. He also attacked the music director Christian Thielemann of being uncooperative. Since you can’t run an opera house without the consent of its music director, Dorny implies that the job was unworkable.

Here’s the German text:

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Offener Brief von Serge Dorny, 21. Februar 2014

Die Verhandlungen meines Vertrages bis zur letztendlichen Unterzeichnung am 17. September 2013 haben 6 Monate Zeit in Anspruch genommen. Ich wollte mich vollständig darüber versichern, dass ich die notwendigen Umstände und Ressourcen zur Verfügung habe, um mich den Herausforderungen für die Gestaltung der Zukunft der Semperoper stellen zu können: Ein künstlerisches Konzept im Einklang mit der Institution unter Berücksichtigung aller in ihr enthaltenen Sparten (Oper, Konzert und Ballett) zu verwirklichen, die Semperoper weiter in der Stadt Dresden zu verwurzeln durch eine Öffnung für ein vielfältiges Publikum, und deren führende Rolle unter den deutschen und europäischen Bühnen zurückzugewinnen.

Der lange Zeitraum der Verhandlungen hätte mich alarmieren sollen. Bereits im Vorfeld meiner Zusage zum angebotenen Vertrag habe ich mich intensiv darum bemüht in Erfahrung zu bringen, wie die Kompetenzen unter den Entscheidungsträgern der Institution verteilt sind und hier im speziellen dieAufgabengebiete des Chefdirigenten der Dresdner Staatskapelle, Christian Thielemann. Leider sind mir diese essentiellen Informationen trotz mehrfacher Nachfrage seit dem Sommer 2013 nur sehr sporadisch und wie ich im Nachhinein feststellen musste, sehr rudimentär durch die öffentlichen Vertreter zur Verfügung gestellt worden.

Erst nach meiner Nominierung und während der beginnenden Arbeit und der Vorbereitung auf die kommenden Spielzeiten musste ich entdecken, dass verschiedene entscheidungstragende Kompetenzen, die laut Vertragsstatus im Bereich des Intendanten liegen, ebenfalls auf die Position des Chefdirigenten entfielen, was in der Konsequenz und im Extremfall zu einem kompletten Stillstand der zu fällenden Entscheidungen führen könnte. Ich habe die Ministerin seit November von diesem Umstand unterrichtet und sie um

Lösung dieses Problems ersucht, ohne irgendeine konkrete Antwort darauf erhalten zu haben.

Zur selben Zeit musste ich feststellen, dass Christian Thielemann nicht gewillt ist, an einem gemeinsamen Projekt zu arbeiten, sondern allein auf seine Unabhängigkeit und die der Staatskapelle bedacht ist zum Nachteil der Gesamtheit der Aktivitäten der Semperoper. Die Sächsische Staatskapelle – außerhalb jeglicher Diskussion auf künstlerischem Gebiet – ist in den letzten Jahren aufgrund ihres Verhaltens zu einem Hemmnis der Entwicklung der Semperoper geworden. Der Artikel aus DIE ZEIT vom 5. Januar 2010 beschreibt, dass die Situation keine neue ist. Die öffentliche Hand bevorzugt es, diese Realität zu ignorieren.

Die Staatskapelle und Christian Thielemann sollten die Renaissance der Semperoper in vorderster Linie anführen, sich für die Interessen der Gesamtheit der Institution einsetzen und mit Stolz und ungezwungen das Leben der Semperoper bereichern. Dies ist leider nicht der Fall. Meines Erachtens hat gerade der Mangel an Transparenz und Präzision der durch

Frau Ministerin von Schorlemer zur Verfügung gestellten Informationen in diese betrübliche Situation geführt. Wäre ich von Anfang an in vollem Masse über die gegebenen Verhältnisse informiert gewesen, hätte ich das Angebot von Frau von Schorlemer ablehnen müssen.

Ihre fehlende politische Courage und Weitsicht und ihre heutige Entscheidung – die Einzige, die sie seit meiner Vertragsunterzeichnung getroffen hat – sind der Beweis. Die Leidtragende ist in erster Linie die Semperoper selbst.

Seit meiner Ankunft in Dresden konnte ich mit einem hochkompetenten, motivierten Team zusammenarbeiten, welches sich leidenschaftlich für die Semperoper einsetzt, um ihren angestammten führenden Platz unter den deutschen und europäischen Bühnen zurückzugewinnen. Die Projekte, die ich mit ihnen entwickelt habe, hätte ich nicht gegen und schon gar nicht ohne Christian Thielemann verwirklichen können und wollen und auch nicht ohne das Verständnis und die Unterstützung der Politik. Die Semperoper und ihr gesamtes Personal verdienen es, ernst genommen zu werden. Sie besitzen ein riesiges Potential und sind voller Hoffnung. Frau Schorlemer hat sich entschieden.

 

 

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  • Get out your popcorn. Minister Schorlemmer surely has to respond to this and it will not be nice since her political life is on the line. Thielemann can claim victory and appears stronger than ever. Will it be a Pyrrhus victory? He has to kill Schorlemmer now, or she has to kill him. They have a dead body in the cellar together now.

  • This could be of interest:

    http://www.welt.de/kultur/buehne-konzert/article125101277/Es-darf-einfach-keinen-Gott-geben-neben-Thielemann.html

    Says that there is also solidarity with Dorny within Semperoper (I guess primarily from those who were not on the reportedly long list of people to be fired), his contract was not compatible with the one of Thielemann from the beginning, Staatskapelle is a state within a state that in recent years has turned into a hindrance for the developmemt of Semperoper, and who would after this disaster be willing to accept the position at all?

    And Deutschlandfunk today at 17:30:

    http://ondemand-mp3.dradio.de/file/dradio/2014/02/22/dlf_20140222_1731_57a77af3.mp3

    Herein the state of Saxonia and in person minister von Schorlemer got heavily attacked, accused of having deliberately choosen Friday to make the announcement and then disappear, sending forward her undersecretary instead to make some statements (knowing who he is I do not want to know any further details, as these appearances were perhaps really embarrassing). And: So far Semperoper was at the fringe of the abyss, now it is inside the abyss, with the second row having to run it alone again for an unforeseeable time while the plannings still done by Ulrike Hessler are running out.

    Concerning the earlier discussion perhaps already a relative comparison suffices: Serge Dorny does not appear to be the diplomat Ulrike Hessler was. And now it becomes fully apparent how important this particular quality was.

    • Amen to your last paragraph in particular. Also let’s not forget that Hessler was a crucial figure in installing Thielemann. She died too soon to experience his loyalty to the hand who fed him to fade away and be overwhelmed by his egomaniac side.

  • “Serge Dorny aber macht in seinem offenen Brief, wie auch im Gespräch gegenüber der “Welt” deutlich, die Hauptschwierigkeit des vergangenen Jahres habe darin gelegen, dass sein Vertrag und der Christian Thielemanns eigentlich unvereinbar seien. “Man hat mir mit dem Hinweis auf Vertraulichkeit Einsicht in seine Kompetenzen verwehrt, die musste ich mir mühsam als Zusammenfassung besorgen”, so Dorny zur “Welt”.”

    This paragraph is most incriminating for Minister Schorlemer. Not only was Thielemann’s contract incompatible with Dorny’s, Dorny was also not told about Thielemann’s competence, citing confidentiality about Thielemann’s contract. That’s what Dorny says and it sounds plausible.

    A classic deadlock, by design of Saxony’s culture minister nevertheless.

    A dilettant performance by those responsible in Saxon state’s government, that damaged and is damaging a great cultural institution.

    • To me their amateurishness was already obvious when Bild came out with the headline “Neuer Semperoper-Intendant will 300.000 Euro!” Or was this not just plain stupidity but indeed an attempted sabotage?

      And now also everybody knows some of the confidential details of the Thielemann contract. If it was really of importance to keep them secret: They now messed this up, too.

      What surfaces again in my mind now is the evening of the big first hurray of Christian Thielemann und die Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. On this evening also a second event took place at the same time, in that small cube to which der Zugang erfolgt über den Parkplatz. And the realities there included concerns about broken set parts. One could grasp the state of affairs with hands that evening. Andiam veloci all’armi.

      The press conference announced for today could become quite interesting…

  • all nonsense and bullshit of course, so why did he accept the job in the first place? on the bais of lack of information?

    Who cares after all, i’m getting more and more respect for Thielemann

  • Those living and working outside Germany probably don’t realise how powerful Christian Thielemann is on his home patch. He’s ruffled a lot of feathers, but those high up who appreciate achievement (and they are legion, believe me) are prepared to stand by their man, so woe betide outsiders who challenge his authority without a proven track record in the same political territory. In Germany, art ranks higher than politics…

    • I agree and disagree. Artistic merits yes, maybe, no… not everything he touches is gold. Thielemann’s psyche is complicated, to say the least. Behind him (Nürnberg, Berlin, München) is a trail of “verbrannte Erde”. Now Dresden is burning…

  • This stinks, but is no surprise to many of us from the music world in Germany as Mr Thielemann’s quest for power is well documented (a glaring example being his suggestion a few years ago that he should be GMD of Bayreuth – a post that historically does not exist).

    The problem here is obviously that there is a massive misconception on the part of Mr Thielemann as to who should be running the Semperoper. Mr Dorny was engaged to be the Staatsintendant, i.e. the boss. Mr Thielemann is engaged as the Chefdirigent of the Dresdner Staatskapelle – i.e the chief conductor of the orchestra. He is not the GMD (in title, as far as I am aware) of the Saechsiche Staatsoper Dresden! So there was always going to be a clash as he obviously thinks his job entitles him to behave as if the company was his to run and he can do what he likes when he likes with the orchestra that has a contractual obligation to the State Opera. I have no wish to show disrespect for his professional accomplishments, but frankly he ought perhaps to remember he is a Chefdirigent, not a Staatsintendant and not the General Musikdirektor of the Staatsoper.

    There are echoes here of the mess that the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich got into in 2005/06 over the inability of Kent Nagano (who was incoming GMD) to work with his new incoming Staatsintendant Christoph Albrecht, another appointment that was ended before it even got going and cost the State of Bavaria a lot of money in compensation (as far as I am able to ascertain, Mr Albrecht was paid off with three years salary) and two years of limbo until Herr Bachler could take up the post as Staatsintendant in 2008.

    Frau Minister Schorlemer seems to have landed herself in a deep mess with all this, and it is very distressing that, given the inevitable backlash after her press release, that she hasn’t got the guts to come out fighting (as Dorny has) and say exactly what is what. It is also disgraceful, if it is true, that ANYBODY employed by the State to work at the State Opera or the Dresdner Staatskapelle, accountable to the public as a PUBLIC State institution, should have confidentiality terms written into their contract of engagement when it comes to either money and/or job description. It is ridiculous that the Staatsintendant is unable to ascertain freely (or even be told publicly) exactly what the role/brief/duty of the Staatskapelle’s Chefdirigent actually is, in relation to the running of the Saechsische Staatsoper Dresden, artistically and administratively.

    It strikes me an obvious solution would be to make Mr Thielemann the GMD and Intendant of the State Opera, and let him have his cake and eat it. I am not convinced that it would necessarily be a good decision, but it seems that he is determined to be the Gran Cacao no matter what.

    Despite all the misgivings about Dorny’s appointment in various blogs and music world press comment, I do sympathise with him here. It seems he has been mightily dumped on.

    • Good point about the legality of confidentiality clauses in public service contracts.

      “It strikes me an obvious solution would be to make Mr Thielemann the GMD and Intendant of the State Opera, and let him have his cake and eat it.”

      Another good candidate for an Intendant that could actually get along with Thielemann would be his mother… At least for a little while. 😉

    • This may appear to be the obvious solution, but it would require Thielemann to do a lot of work at Dresden rather than elsewhere. I had to laugh out loud when not long ago a newspaper article was headed “Thielemanns Haus”: Just look at the schedule and note how few opera performances with him are scheduled in “his house”. Could it be that even many journalists refused to take note of this? Weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf?

      And then: How many of these few will he indeed conduct? Dorny just complained that Thielemann cancelled the last two performances of the upcoming Simon Boccanegra, thus now someone else has to be found at rather short notice. I went to the related pages of the Semperoper website to see if the “Musikalische Leitung” line indeed has turned into “N.N.”: No, it hasn’t, it has simply been deleted altogether. Will *this* be the solution??

      • The FAZ article linked to below (which is quite uncritic with Thielemann) notes that Thielemann’s contract commits him only to conduct 15 performances at the Semperoper per season. And these 15 performances are of his own free choice.

  • There has always been trouble where Thielemann was in charge of managing an artistic institution: Deutsche Oper Berlin, MPhil – and apparently now in Dresden. In fact, since he moved to Dresden I have been wondering how long it would last til the first outbreak of troubles.

    I am no insider, but my impression is that Thielemann

    – can’t accept any gods before him, and

    – only cares for his own performances and his own glory as conductor. The institution entrusted to him doesn’t count and isn’t worth any effort.

    The first point is presumably quite common among great artists, but in combination with the second it makes Thielemann (the great conductor he is) a disastrous manager of any artitic institution. I really hope Berlin Phil will not only search for glory but also consider management capabilities when deciding on the new chief conductor.

  • Here’s the FAZ on the issue: http://www.faz.net/-1v0-7mpoj

    Some quotes from the article:

    Thielemann: “The content of the letter [i.e. the minister’s press release on sacking Dorny] is enigmatic to me. I’ve had wonderful conversations with Mr. Dorny. The Staatskapelle and me, we are no revolutionaries. We have been very much looking forward to working together with Dorny.”

    Dorny: “I can only ask Mr. Thielemann to conduct more than the first three performances of a production. If he doesn’t want to, I have to accept this. And how shall I find a conductor who will do the rest, with no rehearsals?”

    The minister’s spokesperson: “We were engaged, but not yet married.” Dorny on this: “Maybe in Saxony they have contracts that are in force only a bit. As far as I know, I am employed there.”

    • “‘As far as I know, I am employed there.”

      So if he’s employed there, then he doesn’t have any business staying in Lyon.

    • Thielemann has read his Machiavelli and his Clausewitz. Now he claims harmony between the first victim – Dorny – and him and aims at Minister Schorlemer. He knows well, that the next figure on the chessboard that has to go is Minister Schorlemer, otherwise she could cause trouble for him. She is wounded and needs scape goats. Dorny’s open letter prevented him being the easy scape goat.

      Expect nothing but pretentious harmony at today’s joint press conference of Thielemann and Schorlemer. The knifes have been sharpened but they will sing love duetts for the public now.

  • Seems sympathy is turning back towards Dorny. I know nothing about his Lyons adventures, but his time at the LPO was harmonious and successful.

    • ” I know nothing about his Lyons adventures”

      Well, maybe beacuse the press is not interested in his dirty tricks, and would rather concentrate on his own presse releases about his own “wonderful, audacious and balanced programming”… But I tell you, there’s another side to that coin.

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