Breaking: Glyndebourne boss walks off the job

Breaking: Glyndebourne boss walks off the job


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2017

After barely two years in the green and pleasant land, Sebastian Schwarz resigned today as general director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, leaving a certain amount of disarray.

Here’s his reason: ‘In my first encounter with a privately funded company I have come to appreciate Glyndebourne’s unique and complex business model on which its success and survival are dependent and for which the General Director is responsible, alongside providing the artistic strategy.  While planning the seasons up to 2021, I have realised that I feel most at home in a position which allows me to concentrate more fully on creating and executing the artistic vision of an organisation.’

And here’s what Glyndebourne owner Gus Christie says: ‘After much careful reflection, Sebastian and I have agreed that he will step down from his position of General Director. Sebastian’s extraordinary passion for the art form and expertise in the singing voice will be showcased in March at The Glyndebourne Opera Cup, our new international singing competition, an initiative which he brought to the company earlier this year. As planned, Sebastian will continue to chair the jury for the competition. … He is hugely respected and admired by everyone at Glyndebourne, including myself, and he has made an indelible mark on the organisation in his time with us. The fruits of his labours will be celebrated in upcoming years. We part as friends and esteemed colleagues and wish Sebastian every success with his future…’

What’s going down? No-one knows yet, but this has certainly came out of the blue.

Schwarz, 43, was previously deputy artistic director of Theater an der Wien.



  • Enoch Joseph says:

    The main surprise is his honesty in admitting that he wasn’t up to the job.

    Before Glyndebourne his only professional experience (save for being the secretary to Hamburg’s opera director) was as artistic administrator of the publicly funded Theater an der Wien.

    It seems his main talent is convincing people of his competence and raising unrealistic expectations.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t forget his spell as an agent, of sorts. He also made himself popular at the Wexford Festival…

      • Will says:

        “It seems his main talent is convincing people of his competence and raising unrealistic expectations.”

        This seems uncalled for and I’m not sure what it is based on. He has been admirably straightforward in his statement – clearly the fundraising side of things was not for him. Sometimes you don’t know something until you try it. I’m sure he knew this side of his role existed but perhaps it took up more of his role than expected or perhaps he just didn’t enjoy it.

        • steven holloway says:

          A comment exemplary in its understanding, Will. I too thought his statement crystal-clear, but, of course, NL just had to try to start a farrago of nonsense with his “What’s going down?….came out of the blue”. The latter means he’s furious Schwarz/Glyndebourne had the cheek not to inform him privately of this before making it public.

    • Vienna calling says:

      E Joseph, why the jealousy? He was not an artistic administrator but the casting director of Theater an der Wien, and as much as I dislike him personally, he did a wonderful job there.


    This is sad news. He was doing an excellent job.

  • James says:

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like he just wasn’t very adept at the fundraising side and is more of an artistic animal. Raising money is a tough job, and if one isn’t successful it’s tremendous pressure.

    • Anon says:

      Which leads us directly to the current hot potato of the MET and the succession of Levine. A much better opera conductor than Yannick is Fabio Luisi, but Yannick’s bigger appeal to the LGBT community might be of higher priority in a city like NY and a country like the US, where funding for artistic institutions is mostly private. A bit sad.

      • Cynical Bystander. says:

        Nice shoehorning in of homophobia there. What does it add to this or any other thread other than to show your ignorance?

        • steven holloway says:

          + 100

        • Anon says:

          No homophobia whatsoever in my comment. Just observing a reality evident to anyone who can see and hear.
          When saying the sky is blue, one does not state a fear of blue, not in the real world I know.

          • Lewes Bird says:

            So, to bring this discussion back where it belongs (since this article has nothing to do with Levinegate), yet keep it a little along the lines of your wholly unnecessary digression…

            …given that London (of which Lewes is an extension, culturally speaking) and the UK are not alltogether dissimilar from NY and the US in cultural importance and zeitgeist and all the rest of it, then why wasn’t Schwarz, who is no less flamboyantly and charismatically gay than Yannick N-S is, kept to work his homosexual magic upon the legions of homosexual donors here? Eh? Your Yannick argument applies here just as well. As it happens.

      • Tristan says:

        Anon has no idea, Nezet-Seguin is so much more exciting than Luisi who is solid but nothing more: how ridiculous to link this with any gay scene….what a low level!

  • William Osborne says:

    I suspect many continental Europeans would find a private funding system ridiculous and its processes of fund-raising socially backward.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Maybe but the socially backward process produces some rather good opera. Of course ideally opera should be funded by the taxpayers to subsidise self-important activists who can express their contempt for the bourgeoisie. Maybe that is what this man values.

  • Anon says:

    I applaud Norman Lebrecht for not using the headline: German retreats at Glyndebourne.

  • Gill G says:

    What a sad day for Glyndebourne and Sebastian.

  • Fleta says:

    Great news!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I recall Andrew Litton saying the thing he liked least about the Dallas post was the endless fundraising he had to be part of and he looked forward to taking over a state-funded orchestra where that wasn’t part of the gig.

    • Edgar says:

      Indeed. Being Music Director in the US requires a schmoozing talent at least as huge as the musical one. Not every conductor’s cup of tea.

  • Lewes Bird says:

    Schwarz posted on his own Facebook page (which is open to all to read and where he is fairly verbose, in a teenager sort of way) only a few days ago that he was much looking forward to next summer at GFO and hoping the weather would be warmer than this past summer; and again less than 24 hours ago, Sunday night, at the conclusion of this year’s GOT and therefore of this year’s Glyndebourne season, a message of warm thanks to all who helped make it a success — and a few other posts in-between, all of which very much suggested life as usual. Methinks Christie, with whom he’d had many loud disagreements, told him only this morning that he was fired.

    Apparently Schwarz was planning to revolutionise GFO in ways this sort of institution simply can’t be revolutionised. For example, the black tie thing (which isn’t obligatory anyway, but is widely if not uniformly observed) was going to become manifestly optional — sort of, dress as you like, including black tie if you must. One can picture the heart attacks among GFO’s members and donors if such heresy had come to pass.

    • erich says:

      …or could a contributory factor also have been that he was also unwilling to involve a certain lady not unconnected with Glyndebourne in artistic planning and in singing??

    • Tristan says:

      No revolution needed, black tie or not is not the question!
      Much more that we finally get people back who have taste and nothing like a horrible Rosenkavalier etc. why not looking for talents who have taste and talent!
      Paris just offered another horrible production (after a horrendous Carlos another of those…) so time has come to bring back real talents! However most Artistic Directors or even Managers hardly know anything of music nowadays and look at the castings….horror and totally wrong and those people ruin so many young singers also.
      get an English to run Glyndebourne and get an Italian to run la Scala etc – those should know their jobs and get international artists to perform!
      Nothing needs to change in Glyndebourne except better productions!

      • Lewes Bird says:

        Tristan, please be so kind and re-submit your contribution IN ENGLISH; and please try to have a thesis, then develop it in compete and coherent sentences, backed by evidence where relevant. Thanks.

        As for the GFO Rosenkavalier, it predates Sebastian F. Schwarz’s arrival, and therefore it has nothing to do with him. If you don’t know that, perhaps you should keep quiet. Again, thanks.

        • Tristan says:

          no English native but you got the point!
          don’t u have anything intersting to contribute except another one with no taste?

          • Lewes Bird says:

            Honey, darling, no, nope, I didn’t get the point because your muddled and incomprehensible message didn’t have one even if it had been worded correctly.

            As for “taste”, have you ever noticed how people who invoke the taste, or perceived lack thereof, of others, usually don’t have any of their own?

  • William says:

    As someone who used to work at Glyndebourne under Sebastian, the general view among most staff was that no one really knew what he was doing. He wasn’t there a lot and when he was there it wasn’t clear what he was focusing on. He didn’t communicate with staff like David Pickard used to. Yes he was working a lot on the artistic side but there was an Artistic director so it wouldn’t or shouldn’t have been his only focus. As for the fundraising, there is a Director of Development in place who oversees the fundraising of over 7 million pounds a year, so again this was not a main duty for Sebastian. It was obvious from the start he had little business acumen though, and the general director really needs to be someone who has that side as well as the artistic side. I also think he would have struggled with the bullying culture that exists at the top at Glyndebourne. Long in the tooth directors who have ruled with an iron fist for 15, 20 years would not change their ways to accommodate a new boss and indeed, to most of us it did not feel like Sebastian was running the show. He did not have the strong willed personality that would be needed to deal with the other directors and establish his presence as the top dog with them. Glyndebourne needs a new culture but until the directors are replaced and the head of HR is removed this will never happen and they will ensure the next general director they recruit is as meek and mild as Sebastian, heaven forbid their little power trip should be disrupted by someone capable!

  • Ian says:

    It’s a huge shame and a very great mistake to lose him. Is it too late for the Christies to act?

  • William says:

    He was fired but it cost a bomb to recruit him in the first place, thousands wasted. But then this is the same place that took over a year to find a technical director willing to stay with them. Until messers Hopwood, Bruell and Naylor are gone and a new, capable HR director is hired this place will struggle to keep good people.

  • Ian says:

    It was an inspired appointment and his departure will leave Glyndebourne with a profound sense of ‘what if’ for several years.

    • Sanity says:

      He brings to mind Lester Bangs’ comment on Lou Reed: There are people who like Lou Reed and there are those who have met him…

  • Anon says:

    They have also lost their head of building services to the National Theatre (where he was recruited from in the first place!) right as they are embarking on an ambitious building project on site involving complete reconstruction of their technical departments. The leadership team are just hopeless at engaging people and making them feel valued, so its no surprise they keep losing them to other venues. What’s needed in the next general director is someone strong willed with the gravitas to command respect as the top dog – crucially from the other directors.

  • Paddy Briggs says:

    Square peg, round hole.