Conductors take the job of music director at the Vienna Opera in the knowledge that they will have to resign some time. Usually in anger.
All the great directors departed early. Mahler, in 1907, after ten years. Karajan in 1964 after seven. Maazel in 1984 after two. Abbado in 1991 after five years.
When Franz Welser-Möst accepted the chalice in 2007, the first Austrian to do so since Karajan half a century before, he made jokes about longevity. When he started work in 2010, however, in harness with a new intendant Dominique Meyer, the prospects seemed bright. His relations with Meyer were mutually respectful and with the orchestra outstanding. The public and local media were supportive. Last season, ticket sales at the Vienna Opera reached a record 99.67 percent. It couldn’t get much better.
So what went wrong? And why so suddenly?
There had been, we hear, a dispute over a forthcoming production of Josephslegende, a Richard Strauss ballet, a work for which the conductor has strong feelings. The choreographer and ballet company felt differently. Tensions simmered.
But this was not the reason for the sudden breach. A meeting was held yesterday in which the music director expressed his views for the company’s medium-term future. They diverged markedly from those of the administration. It was decided that both sides would go home and sleep on the matter.
First thing this morning, Franz came in and submitted his resignation to Meyer with immediate effect. Like Mahler, like Karajan, like Abbado, he will not set foot in the Vienna Opera again. An era is over. Too soon.