Three heads of opera are facing the consequences of their recent conduct. What the three have in common is their look of bewilderment.
Alexander Pereira does not understand why the La Scala board has slashed his contract to a humiliating 18 months.
And Ian Campbell, having worked 30 years to put San Diego Opera on the map hasn’t a clue why people won’t let him shut it down.
Pereira thinks he’s perfectly within his rights to shift loss-making productions from his last job, in Salzburg, onto his new post in Milan. Gelb sees nothing wrong in sharing information with media that he won’t release to the unions. Campbell could not grasp there might be a problem in hiring his then-wife on an inflated six-digit salary.
What the three men have in common is hubris.
In charge of a house of illusions, an opera manager can quickly lose touch with reality. An inflated self-worth takes over, accompanied by a sense of siege. Gelb sees the world in terms of allies and enemies. Pereira likes to enjoy life on a grand scale among oligarchs. Campbell in San Diego saw the opera as himself: if he was ready to retire, the opera might as well shut down.
Few people have spoken up in their defence because none of the three is what you might call a people person. Their problems are not so much operatic as isolationist. Each of them has walled himself in.
Now there are opera chiefs in Vienna, London, Munich, Amsterdam and multiple festivals who go about their business without making public proclamations or seeking attention, without imagining that the real opera takes place in their office, rather than on stage. In a bad week for opera, it is worth reminding ourselves that there are some outstanding managers out there.
Having written one book about Covent Garden and another about the music industry, I have no doubt that opera houses can be run honestly, openly and with an absence of hysteria. What is certain is that when the manager hits the headlines, management has failed.
And that’s a sign that neither Pereira, nor Gelb, nor Campbell is psychologically equipped to recognise.