Dominique Meyer: We made Vienna Opera multicultural

Dominique Meyer: We made Vienna Opera multicultural


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2020

A parting message from the departing Vienna director, now sovrintendte of La Scala:

After 10 years of hard, but also exciting work, I´ll be leaving the Vienna State Opera in a few weeks.

During this time I have been very fortunate to welcome the greatest singers in the world and to become acquainted with the „who is who“ of the international singing world. Simultaneously, I was able to take care of my great team.

With patience and the greatest care, my team and I were constantly searching for young talents at numerous auditions and singing competitions. Each year I heard more than 800 singers from all across the world.

In a world, in which racism is increasingly spreading violently and „unrestrainedly“ -a terrible expression in my opinion-, we have managed to create a multicultural group of artists regardless of origin, skin colour and religion in both the opera and the ballet world: Around 30 nationalities, including artists of different origin and skin colour, are currently represented at the Vienna State Opera. It was solely their artistic ability that counted.

These artists were highly appreciated by the audience.

May this recognition for these artists last for a long time!

Dans quelques semaines, je quitterai la Wiener Staatsoper, après dix années d’un travail prenant et passionnant.
J’ai eu le bonheur d’accueillir tous les plus grands chanteurs du monde, le who’s who du chant international. Parallèlement, j’ai eu la chance de pouvoir prendre soin de la troupe. Sans cesse, patiemment, avec soin, nous avons cherché des jeunes chanteurs lors de nombreuses auditions et de nombreux concours de chant.
J’ai écouté, chaque année, plus de 800 chanteurs venus de tous horizons. En ces temps troublés où le racisme s’exprime avec violence et de manière “décomplexée” (horrible expression), nous avons créé un ensemble multicolore, multiculturel et multiconfessionnel: une trentaine de nationalités, des représentants de toutes les races et de toutes le couleurs de peau… c’était la même chose pour le ballet. Seule comptait la qualité.
Ces artistes ont été aimés du public… et de leur patron.

Reconnaissance éternelle!


  • William says:

    Methinks thou doth protest too much.

  • Saskia Ellmer says:

    Tut mir leid, Herr Meyer, aber die Wiener Staatsoper ist schon sehr lange multikulturell. Ich möchte ja Ihre Verdienste in diesen zehn Jahren nicht schmälern, aber sich auf die Fahnen heften zu wollen, die Wiener Oper multikulturell gemacht zu haben, ist einfach nur lächerlich.
    Da hatten schon bedeutendere Direktoren vor Ihnen weit größeren Anteil daran. Meine persönliche Opernzeit begann im Jahre 1964 im Alter von sechs Jahren und bereits in meiner allerersten Bohème-aufführung, waren unter den Protagonisten vier verschiedene Nationalitäten, die fünfte stand am Pult. Mit der Zeit wurde das Ensemble in alle Richtungen mehr und mehr multikulturell, letztlich sogar das Ballett. Das alles war sehr lange vor Ihrer Zeit und ich denke, Sie haben es nicht nötig, sich mit fremden Federn schmücken zu müssen.
    Farewell und viel Glück an der Scala di Milano.

    • I notice that this post in German has more reactions than any other. This might tell us something about the readership of SD, and the cultural perspectives many of the readers have.

      • Gustav says:

        Have you translated this post? It’s just saying that it wasn’t Meyer who made the Vienna State Opera multicultural and that the casts have been international long time before Meyer. It doesn’t tell us anything of the author’s beliefs or her cultural perspective.

      • Saskia Ellmer says:

        Couldn’t you imagine that the reactions came because many readers agreed and not because of the German language?
        My decision to answer in German was due to a very special reason to Mr. Meyer what I’m not willing to discuss with you or anybody else. Mr. Lebrecht has accepted my German answer, so you should respect it too. It’s not prohibit to answer in any other language than English.

  • Darrell says:

    The only thing left for him to say was that the next election you have to vote for Joe Biden.

  • This is a propaganda statement and contains a glaring omission. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic is virtually the only major orchestra in the world that does not have a single fully Asian member, or a member with an Asian family name.

    The Chicago Symphony, by contrast, has 18, a pattern found in virtually every major orchestra in the world, excepting some of the poorer Eastern European countries where salaries do not draw international players.

    This is also notable, since about a quarter to a third of the students at Vienna’s University of Music for the last 50 years have been Asians. The VPO simply says there has never been one good enough.

    Historically, the VPO has excluded Asians due to various beliefs, two of the most prominent being: 1) a view that Asians are not musical and only technical, 2) and that Asians would destroy the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity. They further elaborate that they focus on musicians from the lower Danube region of Europe, as if this grants some inherent musical understanding that cannot be otherwise learned.

    There are three half Asian members with Austrian fathers and German family names which the orchestra holds forth as alibis, but that does not even come close to explaining the glaring lack of Asian members like virtually every other major orchestra in the world has.

    More of this history is discussed in this article, The Image of Purity: The Racial Ideology of the Vienna Philharmonic In Historical Perspective:

    For further reference, see this article from Die Welt, “Deutsche Orchester und ihr Rassismus-Problem” at:

    (And of course, I suffer no illusions about how some will react here since classical music fandom contains an unfortunate concentration of both English- and German-speaking reactionaries.)

    • mary says:

      Why focus on Asians?

      Let’s start with 50% of the Viennese population: women.

      Because if you focus on Asians, then an Asian male is what you’ll get. That is no progress at all.

      • Your’re quite right Mary. The ratio of women in the VPO is only at about 10%. (I haven’t counted the exact number lately.) That’s the lowest ratio of any major orchestra in the world (excepting the Bayreuther Festival Orchestra which is only at about 5%.) Sadly, not the greatest statements about the social consciousness of the German-speaking classical music world.

        The VPO recently made a video of music from the Star Wars movies which will be quite lucrative and seen by an enormous audience. (It will be released in August.) There were only three women in the orchestra for that production.

        Referring to the Vienna State Opera as diverse is beyond ridiculous. And that is exactly why the propaganda statement by Meyer was made.

        • Gustav says:

          Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 2019: 28 women out of 190 musicians. That’s 14,74%. Just check their website. You can‘t compare this voluntary ensemble to a full time orchestra. Musicians have to stay in Bayreuth for about 10 weeks which is longer than their summer holiday. Not many women are applying in Bayreuth.
          The ratio of members from other countries is at about 25%.

          The Vienna Philharmonic is a private club. Many of their chauvinistic “traditions” are rooted in commercial interests. I have heard of requests by Japanese agencies and promoters, asking the VPO not to take asian players on tour because it would destroy the japanese audience’s expectations and imaginations of a “original Vienna tradition”. They would just get paid less for their many concerts in Asia if they would hire more asians… That’s it. Same with women. They were only forced by the Americans to hire women, threatened not being invited anymore to the states. Sad.

          • So you feel it is sad that women play in the VPO, the national cultural symbol of Austria. And that race should be an important image in the presentation of classical music.

            Slippedisc responders at their finest……….

            I checked the numbers and you are right. There has been a sudden increase in the number of women in the Bayreuther Festspiel Orchester. The ratio is now 15.26% — 29 women out of 190 positions. It looks like they are trying to catch up. As is typical for the entry of women into orchestras, the main increase has been in tutti violins, the lowest status positions in an orchestra.

            17 of the 29 women are tutti violinists and they account for the sudden 10% increase of women in the orchestra.

            Only 5 of the 61 wind and percussion positions are occupied by women. (Up from 2 not long ago.)

            There are 0 women among the 31 brass positions.

            At 15%, the Bayreuther Orchestra is similar to the Berlin Phil which has the second or third lowest ratio in the world. Along with the VPO, this says something about the status of women in German-speaking orchestras.

          • Gustav says:

            You‘ve got me 100% wrong, I guess because of my bad English…

            I find it sad that the Vienna Phil keep trying to conserve the 19th century. And I find it even more sad that they do it just to make more money.

            I commented on the situation in Bayreuth because it’s a little difference if you are talking about 5% or 15%. And I just wanted to say that playing there is voluntary and not everybody‘s life goal as a musician. It’s a festival orchestra, players are changing every year even though about 50% of them are playing there nearly every summer, more or less regularly.
            By the way it’s not true that the women in Bayreuth are invited only for “the lowest status positions” There have been female concertmasters, principal second violins, principal violas, principal cellos, principal flutes, principal oboes.

            Of course you’re right that in German and Austrian Orchestras many players, especially brass and doublebass section members are stuck in the last century concerning equality. But please don’t spread false facts. And please don’t judge anybody who is just trying to differentiate.

    • Nik says:

      “a pattern found in virtually every major orchestra in the world”
      It is also an interesting fact that the leading Japanese orchestras are 100% Japanese. Yes, 100% Japanese, no exceptions.
      I’m guessing in your book this makes them 100% diverse?

      • As if a quarter to a third of the students in Japan’s conservatories were Westerners, which would be the corresponding situation.

        It is a fact, however, that Japan is one of the few countries that strongly correlates race and culture in ways similar to the views historically held in the German-speaking world. And one hardly needs to outline the suffering those views caused in the 20th century. And to return your rudeness, I suppose that would be just fine with you….

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Well, Meyer’s statement focuses on singers exclusively, ignoring not only the orchestra but also conductors, directors, designers (set, costume, lighting). Perhaps limiting his field of vision allowed him to pat himself on the back more easily.

    • Saskia Ellmer says:

      Why do you mix up the Vienna State Opera with the private club of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. That’s two completely different pairs of shoes.
      This thread concerns to the Vienna State Opera and not to the VPO and the propaganda Meyer has made in his statement is just to glorify himself and his “glorious success” during the last ten years, not more and not less.
      It’s definitely the wrong place to criticise the VPO because of hiring Asians or not. By the way, as far as I know, every private club is allowed to make its own rules. Why do you think the VPO shouldn’t have the same rights as every other private institution?