Famed opera director is fired over ‘discriminatory’ comments

Famed opera director is fired over ‘discriminatory’ comments


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2021

The leading German opera director Peter Konwitschny has been fired from Nuremberg Opera’s new production of Il Trovatore after making what are described as ‘inappropriate and discriminatory’ comments during rehearsals.

A statement from the theatre said it was left with no alternative after the director’s remarks were reported. The substance of those remarks has not been made public but Konwitschny was sacked before the first performance last Saturday.

The production has been taken over by his assistant Marie-Christine Lüling.

Konwitschny, 76, is hugely esteemed in the German opera world for modernist, psychological interpretations. He has been head of productions at Leipzig Oper.

In 2018, he was dismissedby Gothenburg Opera during Boris Godunov rehersals. Gothenburg’s chief executive said: ‘This is a house where one is allowed to be angry, have conflicts and make mistakes. But there is a point where behavior towards co-workers becomes unacceptable. In this case, we could not reach a mutual understanding concerning the gravity of the situation. Therefore, we chose to terminate the contract.’ Konwitschny said later he had been subjected to the Spanish Inquisition.


  • Paul Sekhri says:

    Where there’s smoke…

  • Michael says:

    Konwitschny has not held a post at the Oper Leipzig since 2011…

  • V. Lind says:

    Well, that’s twice in three years — if he’s all that respected, the charges have to have been pretty serious.

    • TubaMinimum says:

      The combination of the two reports, particularly the statement from 2018, make me think this story is more about the archetype of the abusive, tyrannical director/conductor being no longer welcome in a lot of concert halls rather than a guy getting “cancelled” for an off-color joke or out-of-step phrasing.

  • Brettermeier says:

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  • Bet says:

    If Konwitschny himself is unwilling to reveal the comment he made, you know it’s indefensible…

    • HugoPreuss says:

      He has a reputation in Germany for being difficult and quite temperamental. I find the report highly believable.

    • Tamino says:

      He is not unwilling, he has told the details to Bayerische Rundfunk.
      Der Regisseur äußert sich detailliert zu den Vorkommnissen aus seiner Sicht. Demnach handelte es sich um eine Probe mit Chor und Solisten, und zwar um eine Szene, in der “Nonnen” schockiert sein sollten, weil sie von einer Waffe bedroht wurden: “Eine der Nonnen war eine schwarze Sängerin, Frau M., mit der ich schon lange zusammenarbeite, und die hat sich ganz abgewandt, aus Angst vor der Pistole. Da habe ich unterbrochen und gesagt: Frau M., das ist anders, wenn man in so einer Horrorsituation ist, dann will der Körper weg, aber der Blick bleibt haften, den kriegt man nicht weg. Und dann habe ich einfach gesagt: Das ist wie in Afrika, wenn Ihnen ein Löwe entgegenkommt, dann können Sie sich auch nicht weggucken. Das war´s.”

      • Terence says:

        If his version is correct — and I stress if — then excessive sensitivity has been used as an excuse to fire him.

        Perhaps there was more …

      • falparsi says:

        So, Konwitschny has failed to understand the basics here. To refer to “Africa” for any reason in connection with a person of African descent is forbidden and insulting. To refer to “Europe” for any reason (or none) in connection with a person of European descent is obligatory (but the reference needs to be derogatory). These are simple facts of civilized behavior. Konwitschny is clearly unemployable.

      • Frank Flambeau says:

        Translation: “The director comments in detail on the events from his point of view. Accordingly, it was a rehearsal with choir and soloists, namely a scene in which “nuns” should be shocked because they were threatened by a weapon: “One of the nuns was a black singer, Mrs. M., with whom I have been working for a long time, and she turned away completely, for fear of the pistol.

        Then, I interrupted and said: Ms. M., that’s different, when you’re in such a horrible situation, then your body wants to leave, but the look sticks, you can’t get it away. And then I simply said: It’s like in Africa, if a lion comes to meet you, then you can’t look away. That’s it.” I doubt that’s all.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is known that in opera productions, nuns are very sensitive and quite anxious something bad may happen, because they know about ‘Les Dialogues des Carmelites’.

  • Solivagant says:

    It is “discriminatory” to mention his age… You don’t mention the age of Marie-Christine Lüling who has taken over. Could there been element of “grumpy 76 year olds with different cultural norms are not welcomed by these ” Woke” Institutions”?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      A fact is a fact is a fact. Like an age.

    • TubaMinimum says:

      It reads more like directors raised in a generation where that position was given free rein to be a tyrant and abuse their coworkers are finding it difficult to stay employed as institutions grow tired of their act and decide maybe they could find talented people who aren’t jerks.

  • SlippedChat says:

    Not only does nobody expect the Spanish Inquisition, but nobody expects–or nobody used to expect–that every receipient of a >perceived< injustice or disapproval would immediately and hyperbolically compare it to the Spanish Inquisition, or to the Holocaust.

    Some historical comparisons ought to be saved for situations where they're truly warranted. Such situations do, unfortunately, still exist in our world today—but tempest-in-a-teapot musical sackings are not among them.

    • Bruce says:

      ^ 1st paragraph: everyone does expect that now, sadly.

      Also sadly: An apology seems to be viewed, by offender and offendee(s) alike, as an admission of being a horrible person and utterly without hope for redemption. A response of “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do anything! And anyway, it wasn’t that bad. You are all just a bunch of big oversensitive crybabies” is seen as a better response than “I’m sorry and I’ll try never to do it again.”

      (I do not mean that anyone who apologizes for anything, no matter how bad, should be excused.)

      • Bone says:

        If anything has been learned from the cancel mob, it is that at no point does an apology do anything positive for your position. Best to stay quiet and let things run their course or fight.

  • IP says:

    The father was an ardent Nazi turned career communist, the son a communist turned politically correct — what victim to wokery would be more appropriate?

    • Tamino says:

      The father is irrelevant here. The son was not a communist.
      And even if he was, it‘s irrelevant to the issue here and now.

      • IP says:

        What you say would have been perfectly correct in a normal world, which ours sadly isn’t. What I meant is that one wanted a Fidelio with swastikas in the finale and the other sabotaged every Wagner opera he could lay his hands on, until black Mrs. M put a befitting end to the whole comedy. Their many and changing personal convictions are no business of mine, of course.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    I’d have preferred to have seen some of his earlier productions kicked out of the theatre than a grumpy old man in 2021.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Modernist Regietheater directors are prone to tantrums, because the world is bad, and they want to be part of it.

  • AB says:

    Here Konwitschny explains his version. It is not so simple, as bad choleric old man would be a racist. Interesting discussion for a theatre – if someone feeling offended doesn’t speak out directly.


  • Karl says:

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Put him in the comfy chair! That will teach him.