Prague uproar: 350 sign petition to sack foreign opera chief

Prague uproar: 350 sign petition to sack foreign opera chief


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2019

And of this moment, 339 singers, musicians and staff members have signed a petition to Jan Burian, head of the National Theatre, asking him to fire Per Boye Hansen, the company’s Norwegian artistic director.

They say his appointment was illegal and he’s replacing Czech artists with foreigners.

Here’s what they write:

Employees and artists of the Opera of the National Theatre and the State Opera have drafted their open letter to express their serious concerns about the current situation in the Opera of the National Theatre and State Opera. The current situation was caused by the nontransparent manner, in which the new artistic director, Mr. Per Boye Hansen, was chosen for the 2019/2020 and subsequent seasons. During the 2018/2019 season, Mr. Per Boye Hansen has acted as an advisor to the director of the National Theatre, Mr. Jan Burian. During the nine month in the function, he was supposed to prepare for the office of the director. However, during that time, he failed to present any, even basic, vision for the future and caused a crisis in the theatre. Up to this point, he has been dedicating his attention only to specific, narrow issues (especially replacing Czech singers with foreign soloists). He failed to familiarize himself with Czech laws, the inner workings of the theatre and artistic operation of the organization. Until this day, the Opera lacks its new organizational structure and competences and responsibilities for the period from 1 August 2019 on have not been defined.

 A number of questions have been repeatedly raised by the management of the theatre, as well as the artistic boards of the orchestras, choirs and soloists. Those questions have not yet been answered. Therefore, the undersigned have decided to write an open letter to the director of the National Theatre, Mr. Jan Burian.

Until this point, the open letter has been signed by 339 people, including the current management of the Opera, soloists, conductors, players of the orchestra of the National Theatre and the orchestra of the State Opera, singers of the choirs of the National Theatre and of the State Opera, as well as many other well-known personalities.

 In Prague, 13 May 2019

UPDATE: A response from Jan Burian:

The Director of the National theatre received some questions from employees this morning. In an open letter, we will prepare an answer which will include facts that are widely known and accessible from public sources. There would be written also facts that we thought we had informed the opera employees through the Director of the National Theatre Opera and the State Opera.  

“We hope that this is not an effort to complicate the arrival of a new Artistic Director who has been duly appointed on the recommendation of the Director of the Opera in Stockholm, Zurich and Frankfurt. The new Artistic Director has been also recommended by an executive Director of the Opera Europe Nicholas Payne and his team of experts. The new Artistic Director Per Boye Hansen joins the National Theatre at the beginning of the next season. The program of the Opera has been created by the current opera management and approved by me. “


  • - says:

    Czechs can be racists, that’s all .. remember how Gerd Albrecht was treated and nearly any stranger ..

    • Danzas says:

      Do you know at all what “racism” stands for? This is not the case.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Gerd Albrecht (a son of Nazi parents) had it coming. He was arrogant, treated the orchestra with disrespect, started lecturing the musicians about democracy, he did not care about contemporary Czech composers, and made lots of vain promises (recordings?) he could not fulfill.

  • MakeMonsters says:

    For good or ill, almost every opera house undergoes an overhaul when a new boss arrives. Change for change’s sake is not necessarily a good thing, but Prague has for a long time been run slightly like a provincial theatre, and the productions I have seen there have been of a very mixed standard. I’m not surprised he’s shaking things up.

    • Tamino says:

      Prague IS a provincial theatre, and there is nothing wrong with that.
      It depends on the province… 😉
      It’s places like Oslo, or Copenhagen, where money made from blood (Maersk in Copenhagen, logistics US contractor for Iraq war) and oil (Norway) builds shiny new opera houses, but lacks even the provincial long and vivid tradition to fill them with life all year round.

      Give me a provincial theater with tradition any day over a globally oriented but soulless one.

  • Norsk says:

    He’s infected everything he’s ever done and been sacked from everywhere. Why can’t opera houses just get it..

    • Elwood says:

      What you say is not true at all! He was never sacked in Oslo, but his contract was not renewed. Before this he was successfully leaving important posts at KOB and Bergen International Festival , because he was headhunted for these positions prior to the end of his contracts.

      I don’t understand why people needs to gossip and spread so much nonsense in commentary fields.

      Behave 🙂

  • Operalife yey! says:

    Sacked from Oslo for the same reasons, and then on to Prague! Good luck dealing with him!

    • Elwood says:

      See my other comment. Please check your sources before you discredit others. PBH was never sacked, from any job. His contract in Oslo was not renewed after it ended – that’s all.

  • Czechpoint Charlie says:

    As an artist who has worked with many Czech & Slovak companies as well as abroad, I can understand both sides of the argument here. It helps to consider the history of Czech opera and the reasons behind the founding of the National Theatre, and for that I recommend John Tyrrell’s book “Czech Opera”. Until the National Theatre was opened in Prague, there was no venue for performances to be given in the Czech language. What is now the Estates Theatre (where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni) only allowed drama to be performed in Czech for a few hours once a week. Tyrrell even points out that some works would have to be continued a week later due to the time limitations. The National Theatre was built by the Czechs and for the Czechs as is clearly written above the stage “Národ sobě”.

    Of course, one may also consider that the Czech people were long ruled over by the Austrians, and then the brief period of the first Czechoslovak Republik was soon followed by enforced subjugation to the Germans and soon then to the Russians. That may be an oversimplification, but it helps to explain the reluctance to follow under the leadership of foreigners.

    However, the Czech artists who have signed this letter of protest should consider the times we now live in and the opportunities they have, both as individuals and as institutions, for international cooperation. For the past recent generations, artists were limited to work either within the U.S.S.R. or outside of it, but not both. This has perhaps influenced the entire Czech opera system which like the German system is built mostly on Fest or full-time contracts. It is also important to consider the the repertoire of Czech companies is built around Czech repertoire which can best be sung by native Czech singers. This may account for why there are so few foreigners with full-time Fest contracts in Czech or Slovak operas (especially in comparison to the multi-national employments in Western European opera houses).

    These artists could consider the opportunities they have and can create by working with foreigners. Many Czech musicians now make their living abroad, and if Per Boye Hansen is denied this position then should an embargo be called for against Czechs working abroad too? Those would both be stupid ideas.

    Perhaps a good solution would be to return to the organizational structure, which was even still recently held, where the National Theatre was run by completely different administration than the Prague State Opera. The National Theatre was then a sacred ground for Czech artists and Czech repertoire, while the former German Staatsoper remained a house for international repertoire and also included more international guest artists.

  • buxtehude says:

    Ooo those Czechs.

    It might be appropriate to register that Rafael Kubelik, a genius (and a refugee) who happened to be Czech, abandoned his post as music director of Covent Garden in response to Sir Beecham’s harangues against the hiring of foreigners there.

    Of course that was 1958, more than 60 years ago, nothing like that could happen there now!

  • Edgar says:

    There are times when an opera company behaves as if on the opera stage, performing itself as opera of sorts. Maybe everyone in Prague needs to cool down and do some Rossini and other comedy stuff. So that they can laugh about themselves. Which, in Franz Kafka’s town, seems to me a hard thing to accomplish…;-)

  • quaversemibreve says:

    Per B Hansen tried to destroy Oslo opera house by his artistic choices and behaviour. The board would have removed him immediately if they could have but could not due to the length of time needed to secure a successor -this is a well known problem in opera. ad I am sure they couldn’t be bothered with any legal fees and did not want to give him money for nothing so they sat it to wait it out. It is public knowlege in oslo that the report on his rein of terror that lead to his removal was not released in order to protect the identities of the whistle blowers who dared to question his behaviour . He and Karl Heinz Steffens both had to be removed because of their constant aggression and ego manic behaviour. It is only professional courtesy that they were not technically fired. Boards should be less scared of telling the truth but at least in this case they did there job. Steffens reward for trying to destroy oslo from within is being apointed with no consultation and no significant opera track record in Prague where he and Per Hansen will burn and bully and shout their way through everyone they view as the little people. But then Steffens is a protege and close friend of Daniel Barenboim whose bullying ways are now public knowlege .This old way of Might is Right is dying in the opera world but not quickly enough. It is horrible that Prague chose not to make at least one call to his previous employers to find out what the truth is about these men. EVERYONE knows the truth in oslo.Disgusting. Watch how all the people who gave him references now get hired for shows in Prague as payback. who this niclaus Payne is should be ashamed of himself . isnt opera europa meant to uphold the name of opera? Jobs for the bulli boys.

  • Czechpoint Charlie says:

    I believe if you read the actual letter, you will clearly see at least 4 main points which have been inaccurately reported by nearly all the press:

    1. It is not a petition, but a list of questions which make no demands or requests
    2. Nowhere does it even imply that Per Boye Hansen should be fired
    3. Nowhere does it state that his hiring was illegal
    4. No concerns are made or even hinted at accusing Czechs of being replaced by foreigners

    I will post the original 31 questions here in reply to this comment, and invite others to translate.

    • Czechpoint Charlie says:

      1. Jakým způsobem probíhal výběr nového uměleckého ředitele Opery Národní divadlo (ND) a Státní opery (SO)?
      2. Které osobnosti byly osloveny k výkonu této funkce?
      3. Proběhlo jejich slyšení před Garanční radou ND?
      4. Jsou k dispozici písemné koncepce těchto osobností?
      5. Na základě jakých kritérií a předložených materiálů rozhodovala Garanční rada ND při výběru nového uměleckého ředitele Opery ND a SO?
      6. Existuje zápis z jednání Garanční rady ND s doporučením a odůvodněním výběru
      nového uměleckého ředitele Opery ND a SO, předložený MK ČR?
      7. Existuje písemná koncepce Opery ND a SO vybraného uměleckého ředitele Opery ND a SO?
      8. Byl konečný výběr nového uměleckého ředitele Opery ND a SO předem projednán
      s uměleckými radami kolektivních těles, odborovými organizacemi kolektivních těles a odborovou organizací sólistů?
      9. Jakými úkoly byl designovaný umělecký ředitel Opery ND a SO pověřen při nástupu jako poradce ředitele ND od září 2018 do července 2019?
      10. Jaká je podoba a výše finančního odměňování tohoto pracovníka v čase jeho působení na pozici poradce ředitele ND od září 2018 do července 2019 a po 1. 8. 2019?
      11. Existuje seznam jeho služebních cest, vyčíslení nákladů na tyto služební cesty
      z prostředků ND, existují zprávy z těchto služebních cest v době funkčního zařazení jako poradce ředitele ND?
      12. Kdo je zodpovědný za výslednou dramaturgii sezóny 2019/2020 a kdo je zodpovědný za realizaci tohoto dramaturgického plánu? Kdo je zodpovědný za křestní listy
      jednotlivých premiér a titulů stálého repertoáru v sezoně 2019/2020?
      13. Jaká je koncepce nového uměleckého ředitele Opery ND a SO co se týče všech
      přidružených akcí Opery ND a SO od sezony 2019/2020 (zahajovací koncert, Mozartovy narozeniny, Smetanovské matiné, koncertní vokálně symfonická provedení, řada komorních koncertů apod.)?
      14. Byla předložena dlouhodobá dramaturgická koncepce jednotlivých domů spolu s návrhem modelových sezón, ze které by byla patrná dlouhodobá strategie dramaturgického směřování jednotlivých operních domů?
      15. Jaká je koncepce systému hraní v jednotlivých domech (počet premiér, počet titulů na repertoáru, systém hraní oper “proti sobě”)?
      16. Jaký je návrh řešení nedostatečných výrobních a finančních kapacit (dekorace,
      kostýmy) na předpokládaný počet premiér po znovuotevření SO?
      17. Jaká je koncepce sólistického ansámblu při zohlednění daného repertoáru Opery ND, Státní opery a opery provozované ve Stavovském divadle? Které hlasové obory v sólistickém ansámblu jsou z dlouhodobého hlediska žádoucí doplnit? Jak velký je
      plánovaný interní sólistický ansámbl?
      18. Jaká je ekonomická strategie a honorářová politika v souvislosti se zvýšením nákladů na novým uměleckým ředitelem již oslovené hostující sólisty a inscenační týmy?
      19. Jaká je umělecká strategie pro zkvalitňování orchestrů a sborů?
      20. Existuje plán na systém odměňování kolektivních těles a na personální práci
      v kolektivních tělesech? Existuje plán na systém odměňování interních sólistů?
      21. Jaké personální složení (počty) je plánováno pro jednotlivé sbory? Jaké personální složení (počty) je plánováno pro jednotlivé orchestry?
      22. Jak se připravuje řešení krize v některých hlasových oborech v obou sborech?
      23. Jaká je připravovaná struktura řízení Opery ND a SO – jednotlivé pozice, lokace,
      personální zajištění od 1. 8. 2019?
      24. Na jak dlouhé funkční období byla uzavřena smlouva s designovaným uměleckým ředitelem Opery ND a SO a hudebním ředitelem Opery SO?
      25. Jaké místo bude zastávat v organizační struktuře ředitelka Opery ND a SO, umělecký ředitel Opery ND a SO, hudební ředitel Opery ND a hudební ředitel Opery SO od 1. 8. 2019?
      26. Jakým způsobem probíhal výběr nového hudebního ředitele SO? Existuje zápis z jednání Garanční rady ND s doporučením a odůvodněním?
      27. Existuje písemná koncepce Opery SO předložená vybraným hudebním ředitelem Opery SO?
      28. Byl výběr nového hudebního ředitele Opery SO předem projednán s uměleckou radou Orchestru SO, uměleckou radou Sboru SO, uměleckou radou sólistů, odborovými organizacemi kolektivních těles SO a odborovou organizací sólistů?
      29. Jsou nový umělecký ředitel Opery ND a SO a nový hudební ředitel SO odpovědni
      za hrací plán sezóny 2019/2020?
      30. Jaká je podoba a výše finančního odměňování nového hudebního ředitele Opery SO?
      31. Jaká je koncepce v organizační struktuře a personálním obsazení dalších pozic v organizačním řádu (stálí dirigenti, dramaturgie, korepetitoři, asistenti režie,
      inspicienti, nápovědy, technické složky SO atd.) od 1. 8. 2019?