Vienna Opera’s chief conductor attacks its choice of directors

Vienna Opera’s chief conductor attacks its choice of directors


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2022

The Vienna State Opera’s music chief Philippe Jordan has come out in the Kurier newspaper with an onslaught on the kind of post-modern directors who produced the likes of this week’s fake-Mahler confection.

He said: ‘I believe that, as far as directing is concerned, our theatre has taken a fatal wrong path for a long time. … Ultimately, this path leads to inevitable failure in the long run…. nI don’t have the feeling that artistic directors, dramaturgs and especially directors are really interested in this interaction between theatre and music.’

The temperature must be rising in the executive offices. Outside, Jordan will be acclaimed as a hero.

UPDATE: Jordan said he will not renew his contract, which expires in 2025.



  • M2N2K says:

    Hero or not, Philippe Jordan is a fine musician and I respect his opinions about musical matters.

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    As average as he is as a conductor, he is right in what he says. Musical theater consists of 50% music and 50% theater. The task of a good director is to find this balance and to present it authentically in the sense of the composer and the libretto. Instead, they treat their perversities, their sick visions, their egocentric attitude to life, their immeasurable urge for recognition and their inflated attention deficit. Artistic directors smell a tangible scandal in everything and hope for their part to attract attention and full houses. Although we have already seen all the supposed scandals – naked breasts by Kupfer in the 70s, blood and castration in the 90s by Bieto, swastikas, pornography, etc. And dramaturgs pack this in a teacher-like manner into program booklets that are an insult to any person with an average intellect.

  • Adam Stern says:

    He’s a hero as far as I’m concerned. I can’t wait for a decrease in productions touted as “a rethinking of [fill in name of composer]’s masterpiece”.

  • Sceptical says:

    Hero? There’s no use calling out the directors if you’re still conducting their productions night after night! If conductors would vote with their batons, as it were, then we might be able to start talking about heroism…

  • Ms.Melody says:

    It is about time somebody of statue and importance and knowledge and expertise spoke up about the outrage, profanity and sheer blasphemy that is being sold to the paying public as “Fresh, brave, original and relevant opera”. The “Original” was created by the composer and the librettist, most of the modern interpretations are nothing but perversions of the original. Bravo Maestro, well done. Hopefully, he will not be the last.

  • justsaying says:

    Jordan is dead right. Opera administrations have convinced themselves that “productions” are the main way to interpret operas, and have filled their ranks and staffs with people who agree. There is nothing to indicate that the public feels this way, nor does the nature of opera lend itself to such an innovation. I’m glad to see him speaking up bluntly.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Increasingly I have wondered about the conductors of awful regietheater opera presentations. At the end they stride out and bow, and audiences generally have seemed to exempt them from reactions to the productions. That may be changing–witness Cornelius Meister’s reception following this year’s Bayreuth Gotterdammerung.

    Conductors have lost their central importance in opera productions. They should speak out like Jordan and start to reclaim it.

  • rentayenta says:

    for me the path is not quite wrong enough

  • Clem says:

    Jordan sits on the top perch of a profession where conservation is the rule and experiment forbidden. Theatre direction is a profession where innovation is the rule and experiment a necessity. If he thinks theatrical innovation hampers the “interaction between theatre and music”, he should make his point by giving examples and demonstrating how this interaction has been disturbed. If he is not willing to do that, he is not a hero but a coward.

    Opera directors are often accused of having outsized ego’s. But I have yet to encounter an opera director who lectures conductors on how to conduct. To each their trade, and after Karajan turned Salzburg into a deeply reactionary, artistically irrelevant vehicle for his commercial interests, I don’t think it wise that conductors start meddling in opera production again.

    • Iain says:

      “experiment forbidden”

      Experimentation is not forbidden, anyone who wants to experiment is free to create an opera from scratch. It’s much easier, of course, to work parasitically on the back of an established and popular composer.

      • Clem says:

        So experiment is permitted on your terms. That kind of goes against the very idea of experimenting. It gets a bit tiresome to hear people who know nothing about theatre pontificate about music theatre.

        Nobody questions your personal tastes. If you don’t like contemporary music theatre, stay home. Plenty of Zeffirelli spectacles to watch on dvd. But don’t act like your personal preferences are the established norm in theatre. Better even: don’t act as if your personal preferences matter at all.

        • Iain says:

          No, people can experiment in any way they wish. I just think they should stand on their own two feet.

          Interesting you use the word ‘tiresome’ – a good way of describing the way many people clearly feel about the way productions are going. I didn’t realise, however, that only highly gifted experts such as yourself are allowed to ‘pontificate’ on the subject.

    • Thank you Jordan says:

      Re: Clem

      Musical experiment in opera is de facto forbidden by these directors. Everything and everyone else has to be completely mediocre in order to engage with their brittle miserable “concepts”. Even in an old production, nobody has had the chance to develop their art such that they can make something of it.

    • Brian says:

      Absolutely right, Clem.

  • Iain says:


  • Evan Tucker says:

    Yet another Staatsoper director is out barely after he begins….

  • Timothy Albrecht says:

    Having heard (part of) the performance on ö1, I couldn’t agree more with Philippe Jordan.

    I love Mahler too much for this…

  • Harry Collier says:

    In music, the trend is to go back to what the composer envisaged (historically conscious). In opera, the composer has only to say “Ancient castle in Moorish Spain” for some 20 year old stage director to change this to “New York Subway circa 1998”. Why one set of musicians tries to recreate what the composer envisaged, whilst another set of theatrical entrepreneurs tries to stamp its own ideas; beats me. I love opera, but only listening on CDs. On my rare visits to live opera, I have preferred to listen to the music, the singing and the playing, and to shut my eyes to stage antics. Music, singing, playing; forget the rest.

  • Adrienne says:

    Directors should remember that the music has achieved substantial success without the visual element, on vinyl, CD or whatever. If the music could be stripped out of the drama, leaving only the words and the direction, would anybody actually turn up?

    Otello without the music would not begin to compare with Othello. Many directors seem unable to understand that the music provides much, if not most, of the drama.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Jordan is so right. There are other directorial wasteland houses in German-speaking Europe. Munich under Dorny seems to be going that way/has been there. The prevalent attitude in these climes is often of pseudo-intellectual arrogance / ignorance completely divorced from the opera, the music, the audience, the taxpayer, … with pure, unadulterated ugliness as the result.

  • Fernandel says:

    Bogdan Roscic thinks about handing over the job to Olivier Giroud.