Breaking: Bucharest reinstates opera and ballet chiefs, fires nationalist boss

Breaking: Bucharest reinstates opera and ballet chiefs, fires nationalist boss


norman lebrecht

April 20, 2016

We understand that the crusading interim manager, Tiberiu Soare, has left Bucharest National Opera with immediate effect.

Johan Kobborg is back as director of ballet and George Călin as head of opera.

There has been no official confirmation yet. A statement is expected later today.

UPDATE: Călin’s restoration is temporary, until the end of the season. Soare is not going quietly. His supporters are demonstrating at the rear of the opera house and threatening to call a strike.

Kobborg says: ‘Thank you to all that supported in this difficult time. This quickly became so much more than just about me being there or not, and that is the reason why I didn’t leave straight away, as I and ‘we’ could not allow for this institution to go back to how it used to function, for the sake of the artists and for the sake of the future of Romanian culture life.

‘Rightness has prevailed, and not only that, much more then that! It is the beginning of reform, and ONB might soon be the benchmark for the better of other Romanian institutions as well.

‘I came to ONB because of good people, and would only ever leave ONB in the hands of other good people. So until that day comes, I am very much here and very much BACK! Damage has been done, but will rebuild and continue what we started with even more passion. Now I will leave the politics behind, and go back to what I live for. Art.’

Johan kobborg


  • M.B says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,
    As an artist myself, resident of Romania, and somehow closer to the situation, I think it is important for the international journalists to present the thruth as it is, not only the point of view of those you are aquianted with. I’ve worked with maestro Tiberiu Soare and with my heart wide open, I can tell you he is one of the most intelligent figures, a very honest person, extremely devoted and talented conductor. He is not nationalist, nor a xenophobe, he is not bossy, he leads people with a lot of patience and diplomacy, every single person who worked with him felt his wonderful energy. The situation at the National Opera House in Bucharest has been tensioned for years now, former managers having big problems with respecting the law (including the one who is suddenly back now). Please read this article – if it’s not clearly translated, I would be happy to help with it. The things said about Mr. Soare are lies, and it’s very sad that the whole artistic world believes those lies.

  • Absurdistan says:

    Once again Madam Gheorghiu, instead of apologizing for making a fool of herself in Vienna and a mockery of Puccini’s Tosca, sends incoherent messages of support for Sgt. Soare and attacks two artists – Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg – in a class completely differently from her withered self, artists who never bothered her in any way.

    This is her typical character, she can’t help it.

    • Mihail Ghiga says:

      Ok, I understand, you don’t like AG. It’s not my type of singer either. But there are moments in life when people who we don’t like agree with the truth, and people who we like go absurd. The reality in the opera here is more complex, and it’s previous directors (who are defended by Kobborg and co.) destroyed other 3 institutions before (go figure).

  • Felix says:

    It is so easy to make justice from a London living room, giving verdicts on an opera house 3000km away, is it, mr. Lebrecht? So comfortable to label people as nationalists and treat them inferior, is it? maybe you are not aware but ALL opera staff (except a part of the ballet staff) is considering a strike and tonight performance was in question. From reasons you ignore or because google translate from romanian is not that precise… now clearly all Bucharest opera staff, artists… they are all nationalists, is it? you don’t deserve your readers, mr. Lebrecht. you are knowingly misinforming them.

    • Felix says:

      to whom it might concern:
      (google translated)
      Protest ONB, slaves choir music from the opera “Nabucco” by Verdi. The performance “Falstaff” by Wednesday evening, was canceled VIDEO 0
      April 20, 2016 19:41:23
       Bucurelti National Opera artists gathered Wednesday evening in Theater PHOTOS: David Muntean Bucurelti National Opera artists gathered Wednesday evening in Theater PHOTOS: David Muntean
      Employees of the Bucharest National Opera (ONB) – singers, dancers, musicians, machinists, peruchieri – protested the decision of the Minister of Culture of you reinstate George Calin, former interim and dancer Johann Kobborg, all present Opera House singing the famous aria from “Nabucco” by Giuseppe Verdi.
      “We suffered a lot from other colleagues” was said Wednesday at the National Opera. “We do not live on Facebook,” he said a young employee hints that Culture Minister Vlad Alexandrescu, did not come to the meeting with employees on Tuesday promised social network. Moreover, one of the young singers from ONB reminded the minister that was named after a tragedy, the club Collective, following protests attended and where they shouted “Corruption kills” and not a social network.
      A substantial number of employees of the Opera gathered in the Great Hall of the institution, where they said discontent, shouted “resign”, they cheered and listened to what they had to say each.

      Romanian stage artists, dancers, soprano, collaborators irregularities spoke about the fact that they feel suffocated by inequalities that we have announced many times in the past.
      First soloist of the National Opera, soprano Irina Iordăchescu, read a letter to his colleagues aimed Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and Minister Vlad Alexandrescu. In it, a significant number of employees signed for several issues: inequalities and inequities between salaries, employment by Johan Kobborg of “functions illegal”, maintaining the key posts of a team from the time the leadership of John Dincă, indicted criminal


  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    Kobborg and parter were already reinstated. They continued to make a fuss to reinstate those who hired them, which are under investigation for fraud. Soare has not in the least the intention to grab a position, as he’s a well known conductor in Romania, and a quite good one, he and his colleagues just want the opera to function. They don’t have toilets, they don’t have heat, they don’t have a roof over the stage (just a tarp over it) and they have to sign an agreement that they are ok to work under hasardous conditions. For whoever is curious, this is how the opera looks, after 2 renovations in the last years (down the page).
    It’s very common in Romania that bosses of big institutions in need of repair put the money in their pockets and let the buildings rot.

  • Absurdistan says:

    A sonorous document is worth a thousand words.

    Here’s the BEST Tiberiu Soare recording available on youtube.

    Listen and judge for yourselves. I have heard community orchestras with purely amateur conductors sounding less embarrassing than this Dvorak caricature.

    THIS is the “artist” who claims to pass judgment on unimpeachable world stars of Alina Cojocaru’s worth. That Angela Gheorghiu believes this would be a good conductor speaks even more about her, and her ears, than about him.

  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    No, it’s not the best of him, as he conducs a STUDENT orchestra in your example, Absurdistan. An orchestra he conducted pro bono for a while, to help them. You can see him here with the radio orchestra and Teodora Gheorghiu (hope that just the name doesn’t give you the heart attack). And in the other example is a very good romanian contemporary opera.
    The point is he NEVER made any comment about the quality of Kobborg or Cojocaru, this was not the bject of the dispute. I’d like very much for them to stay, but not if the price is to hire back a corrupt manager. I doubt very much that any sane foreign opera director would hire Kobborg now in an director position (as a dancer or coreographer of course).

  • Absurdistan says:

    Here’s another telling document. A rather eloquent one. I assure you this is NOT a parody. Mr. Lebrecht, you are the only website in the known world to have access to this.

    In way of protest against the tyranny of foreigners, under the musical inspiration of “maestro” Tiberiu Soare and the moral tutelage of saint’n’martyr Angela Gheorghiu, the rebelling, um, musicians at the Bucharest Opera sang, if “sang” is the word, the Slave Chorus from Nabucco in an, how should I put it?, unique musical manner.

    Listen to this, listen to it repeatedly: this is the wonderful level of musicianship of the Soare/Gheorghiu/Irina Iordachescu-endorsed magnificence. You can hear the very best of the anti-Kobborg artists in this document.

    Listen and weep.

  • julie says:

    How can Kobborg say it’s “the beginning of a reform” considering the fact that the previous director was reinstated and Kobborg is back in the ballet? What kind of reform is that?!

    “we could not allow for this institution to go back at how it used to function” I couldn’t agree more! So the reinstated director and Mr. Kobborg should show some dignity and leave. He was the one that started this classless circus, lying and manipulating the press and the public.

    A lot of self-named bloggers in Romania are also very pissed off and are presenting a distortion of the truth, since they don’t recieve any more “compensation” for promoting the Bucharest National Opera.

    People who read this blog, don’t bother to respond to Absurdistan or other nicknames that he has here. He is an ignoramus, a rude twit that has a personal, obsessive, over-the-top vendetta against Angela Gheorghiu, Tiberiu Soare and probably anyone else that has a different opinion than his.

    • Absurdistan says:

      Thank you Julie, I can always rely on your analysis of my humble self. It’s irrelevant here, though, so please don’t send a check.

      SO: what do you think of the Tiberiu Soare (Angela Gheorghiu’s favorite cheap-for-hire “maestro”) Dvorak? Please, inquiring minds would like to know.

      How do you like this, ummm, unique Slave Chorus from Nabucco? It sounds almost as incomparable as Angela Gheorghiu’s solo singing.

  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    WE GET IT, Absurdistan.
    You don’t like Angela Gheorghiu (we agree on some extent) and the choir is bad (OMG, yes, but what to expect when multiple opera singers sing together in unison?)
    Fact is that it is not the quality of the performers in discussion, but the fact that the two dancers, as good as they might be, insisted on bringing back a corrupt management. The operetta is ruined. Constanta theater is ruined. The National Opera doesn’t feel very well aswell.
    I have to make a point: it’s VERY EASY to be a succesful manager in Romania:
    – You hire an advertising company, for big bucks and you put collorful posters everywhere.
    – You hire foreigner stars, for big bucks (more than they get payed usually). People don’t get it, it’s nothing extraordinary for stars to come to a country, just pay them. And good performers are NOT rare, in some countries (France, by instance) you can get them at very low prices.
    – You give free food to the critics, and some piece of the cake (money or stuff to do)
    – You throw money in the air, and if some come back in your lap, it’s God will.
    – You totally ignore repairs, logistics, local small people.
    And at some points all hell breaks lose, which is happening now.

    • Absurdistan says:

      Dear Mihail, I would like to first thank you for offering a polite, reasonable reply. So thank you!

      Well, I could argue that I expect that truly good opera singers singing together should sound better than simple choir members. We are not talking about powerful personalities not meshing completely together, which can happen, but about musically handicapped people who simply sing very, very, very poorly. Remember the kernel dogs “singing” in Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”…. they sounded more in tune than these rebelling geniuses and martyrs.

      You are of course entitled to disagree with certain managerial practices – in Romania, France, anywhere.

      So far, everything I have seen, watched, heard has NOT convinced me that Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg have dragged down the wonderful level of Romanian artistic life. On the contrary.

      Honestly, assessing the level of the “anti-…” crowds – one can talk about intellectual, musical, you name it, level – one cannot help but see this whole thing as a “mineriada”, Pol Pot-like hateful, suicidal rebellion against the dreaded “elites”… with a lot of class envy, xenophobic abuse and scapegoating involved.

      Once again, thanks for attempting to put your thoughts in articulate terms.

      Best regards.

      • Mihail Ghiga says:

        Well, thank you as well for your equally reasonable reply.
        For the sake of the argument:
        I’m more than convinced that Kobborg and Cojocaru rised the level and I think they should stay. And that continuing this kind of import of high level artists and projects is a really good thing, if done properly.
        My problem is with the management. Bringing good people and advertising them is a good thing, ignoring the root problems and not fixing them is a bad thing. The tip of a spear (the stars) can be only as good as the handle who carry it, if it breaks, all is lost.
        I know what you feel and want to say. Romania is frustrating. There are arround stradivarius-like forte-pianos or harpsichords, no one cares to restore them. There are unique musical manuscripts,no one cares to revive them. Have managed to bring some oustanding musicians on some occasions (Ian Partridge, Peter Harvey, Laurence Cummings, to cite but a few), and the impact was minimal. Young musicians (some were, in some small amount, supported through what we did, like Valentina Nafornita, Andrei Ionita) leave for greener pastures. I work in early music, we are like 50 years behind.
        Soweto, SOWETO (kudos, soweto) have a better baroque orchestra than Romania (where hardly you can put together a baroque orchestra once per year).
        So this frustrating situation is exactly why I strongly thing we have to adress the root problems, even if we want to bring stars aswell. There is no ansolute truth, in one or the other camp, the truth is in the middle. Bringing back the contested (and I’d bet corrupt) management is an error. Keeping the dancers is good. Bringing (as the minister sayed) an internationally aknowledged management it’s a fantasy, sand in the eyes, we need COMMON SENSE.
        Potential, we have. Young good singers, I see plenty arround. Trainable instrumentists, as well (just by a little competent training and the level is jumping up).
        We need common sense, and I’m sure that if the dancers, the minister and the singers and the rest would have exchanged opinions as we do, this would have not get here.

  • M.B says:

    Absurdistan, first of all, your comments are bitter and full of offenses, which is not a mark for a civilized cultural world unfortunately. Of course, on your blog this is how things go, but please, please, at least try to act in a proper manner – all these insults are very hard to handle and a deepening the ugliness of the situations is not a solution.

    Now, for the readers:
    The truth comes from a very simple ecuation: Mr. Tiberiu Soare has reacted to a set of problems signaled by authorities’ control, legal problems! One of those problems was Mr. Kobborg contract (his position was not legal for so many years). Let’s presume this is only the mistake of those who made the contract, and not Mr. Kobborg’s. But it is a problem that needed to be solved, otherwise, he would have stayed in illegality and the next authorities’ control would have been with consequences.
    The minister of culture proposed to fix this problem, but Mr. Kobborog refused it, saying out loud that he wouldn’t work with people like Mr. Soare anymore, in lies and corruption. Now, THIS sounds absurd, since the only thing that Mr. Soare has done was to react to the recent control of the authorities and to put the things legally back on track. Unfortunately, from this moment on, lots of accusations were thrown to him – mostly based on lies, who knows what the interest is here.
    Personal opinions on how he is as a conductor are of course..personal. As to my knowledge and experience, I haven’t met yet a musician (here is Romania) that would not consider him one of the best conductors here, and everyone I met was delighted to work with him. Of course, this is the perspective of the musicians and – again, as far as I experienced – of the public. Your personal bitterness is somehow…hard to understand since what matters now are some very simple facts.
    No one, but NO ONE EVER talked about Mr Kobborg or Miss Cojocaru’s value. Every single person is appreciating their value as artists. No one ever wanted them to leave ONB. From what they represent to the artistic world to manipulating a minister in bringing back a manager that is under suspicion for fraud, and has been fired because of the legal problems found after the authorities’ control, now that’s a long road.
    At the protest in front of the ONB, the televisions that came to record were completely ignoring the ONB’s employees. Some of them were booing just to attract their attention, because the press refused to take interviews from them, telling that it was Miss Cojocaru the one who requested their presence. It was booing and that’s it! One person dared to shout (just ONE!) to the dancers, and after that the world exploded that we are a country of xenophobes, in front with Mr. Soare.
    Not to say about the lies told about him not speaking English to the dancers (after he was named, he spoke to the company both in English and Romanian, and the entire company was present and can witness this).
    The truth has been very much distorted, and everyone here is asking WHY, what are actually the interests behind this scandal. It is humiliating for all the artists involved, since their job is to consume their energy for creating art, and not for such things. Instead of looking for a civilized manner to end this scandal and for all parts to apologize for their mistakes and misunderstandings, things are evolving from one mistake to another, making both the artists and the public to suffer.
    Unfortunately, there are people behind this who are throwing insults and offenses over the artists involved, making hard for the conflict to stop and fuelling their anger towards each other – shame on these people!!!!!!
    We truly hope that these artists will be supported with kindness and patience and led to what really matter – working together in unity and legality for great art products dedicated to the public.

  • Alina Rotaru says:

    Dear Norman Lebrecht, what reasons do you have to call Tiberiu Soare nationalist? It is a very serious term which should not be used lightly. I think that when you choose to use such a term, you should also explain why. I enjoy reading your blog very much, but the lack of objectivity I see in it sometimes is dissapointing. We need more objectivity in our musical world. Gossip can be very destructive. Meanwhile there is moch more information available about what really happened at the Opera – same with the Cologne incident involving Mahan Esfahani, where you did not show much objecitivy either, by the way. Wouldn’t you want to be better informed, wouldn’t you want to really understand? Is it okay for you to spread gossip?

    • Mihail Ghiga says:

      Well said, Alina. Gossip is unworthy of being spread like this. The artists at the opera are subjected to horrendous mediatic pressure and most of the so called art lover bloggers, being involved with the previous direction, are spreading venom and lies.

    • almaviva says:

      Alina, ‘maestro’ Soare IS a nationalist. What else can you call someone who leads his supporters in chants of ‘out with the foreigners’?

      • Alina Rotaru says:

        Almaviva, that never happened. Do you have any proof of that? This is ridiculous, everyone who knows Tiberiu will agree with me on that.

        • almaviva says:

          Alina, are you really denying there were no chants of ‘out with the foreigners?’ Do you find that situation normal in what purports to be an European country in 2016? Name one other opera house in Europe where that happens. Even in Putin’s Russia, they allow foreigners to run opera houses; just look at Perm Opera and Ballet, where the artistic director is Greek and the general manager is French.

          • Alina Rotaru says:

            Yes, Almaviva, I deny it. You are obviously very interested in scandal. Jan Kobborg was no artistic leader of any sort at the Opera, he just called himself that way. His “contract” was a fraud. That’s what it is about. But it is ver convenient to shout out “racism” or “nationalism” any time it suits you, isn’t it? You probably haven’t read what M.B. and Mihail Ghiga wrote earlier, well, now I gave you five minutes of my time to explain to you what happend, in the most simple way. By your reactions I can only assume you are professionally not connected to the music performance in any way – that’s fine, but then maybe you should stay at a polite distance away from things you obviously do not understand. (On the other hand, maybe you are just a troll, in that case I wasted my ime for nothing.)

      • Mihail Ghiga says:

        The ONLY allegation acusing Tiberiu Soare of nationalism is from Mariana Minoiu, one of the dancers directly involved with Kobborg. Witnesses say it’s a lie, and a lot of professional foreign artists are declaring their support and denouncing the nationalist accusations:

  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    And it’s so interesting that the most vocal acuser of Tiberiu Soare is directly payed by the former direction, as a photo with his paycheck went viral. The truth is complex, Kobborg is commiting professional suicide.

  • Monica Balasoiu says:

    I don t have such a great life experience. I m only 27. But one the best moments of my life, I will always remember it, was singing VA PENSIERO at BNO with soloists, orchestra, choir, and the people for auxiliars: hair style, make up, lights, cleaners etc.

    I play violin. At karaoke, I don t sing! My voice it s a shame :))))
    But for that Va pensiero, oh…. I said to myself “forget about the voice, I’m in!”
    That VA PENSIERO was not about soloist, performance, music, high level.
    It was about togetherness, freedoom, rights , truth, and… maybe the most important, standing up for what we all need, a clean management! 🙂

    Peace, love and light!