Half Tones

Dominique Mayer, Jürgen Flimm and Alexander Pereira, The (Spam) Opera at the Schauspielhaus, Paul Flieder

Dominique Mayer

We have a new director at the State Opera from the beginning of the season, that is, from the first of September. And performances are already planned from the fifth. Schools used to be reprimanded if it took them a couple of weeks to get their schedules set and normal classes going. Who’s reprimanding the opera director? Above all, for the boring performance schedule that he has come up with for the first Season, Dominique Mayer claims that he didn’t have enough time to get ready.  But someonewho is a shrewd and passionate theater person can turn everything upside down and get whatever they want: Mayer is and will remain a simple bureaucrat. Mayer’s predecessor, Ioan Holender, claims that he arranged everything.  According to Holender, he could have stayed on a year or two longer – no one believes that of course – but then Federal Minister Claudia Schmied supposedly mentioned two names, and he pounced on Monsieur Mayer. Be that as it may, to present Vienna’s audiences with Hindemith’s Cardillac as the first premier is pretty pathetic – as Tucholsky said, a writer’s enemy is his reader. Vienna’s opera-goers are won over by star-studded casts and premiers of Verdi or Wagner, not by Hindemith.  A Hindemith premier is something a schoolmarm would think of, something good for music appreciation classes. Nonetheless, Dominique Mayer can also be quite clever. The die was cast the evening before his press conference about the new season: the long underpaid State Opera Orchestra got a new wage agreement and in one stroke everyone was happy. The orchestra now backs Mayer to a (wo)man. Allegedly, if he hadn’t done so, general music director Franz Welser-Möst would have resigned. Holender hadn’t given a damn about the ongoing requests from the orchestra. And Mayer might even get another Brownie point: according to rumors leaking up from the “catacombs” of the State Opera, Janacek’s Jenufa will be performed in the original Czech/Moravian version after one more performance in German, as rehearsed.  A likely story! But it would certainly get rid of one of the worst embarrassments of the Holender era.


Jürgen Flimm and Alexander Pereira

And Salzburg? An even bigger mess! It was politically a total failure: they haven’t been able to get a proper manager/artistic director into the right post at the right time. No one is still trying to defend the decision that Jürgen Flimm was ever given the post in the first place. And now he has slithered his way, teary-eyed, out of his contract in order to try his luck as a job hopper at the Berlin State Opera. At the side of Daniel Barenboim, who busily conducts everywhere in the world, but hardly ever in Berlin. Oddly, the Zurich opera boss Alexander Pereira, who has his roots in Vienna, was called up as the Salzburg Zampano. Gerd Bacher, former tiger and several-time ORF general director, and incidentally also the father of the Salzburg Festival president Helga Rabl-Stadler, commented on this, both amused and furious, in the Presse. The night before the decision, all of the responsible parties were screaming, “Pereire?? Not over my dead body!” The next day they were rejoicing:——“Habemus papam.”  Markus Hinterhäuser, the innovative and successful concert director of the Festival, whose application for the artistic director position went unnoticed, will be used in 2011 as a short stopgap until the grandmaster and attention-seeker Pereira finds his way to Salzburg. Under the crazy conditions that he has demanded: no business director! Is there method to this madness?


 The (Spam) Opera at the Schauspielhaus

A more refreshing season begin can hardly be imagined: in the Vienna Schauspielhaus the so-called Progetto Semiserio is right on target with the current music theater piece Gain extra inches! Die (Spam)Oper: bright, witty, parodistic, absolutely “listenable.” And sophisticated, continually grazing the edge of becoming a practical joke. Spam is a maddening curse.

All of us who can no longer live without the internet suffer from it. We waste unbelievable amounts of time and energy on it. In eleven scenes, scenes that Nestroy would be proud of, a kaleidoscope of normal craziness is played out.  Virtuoso staging and singing by the musicians/actors (Genoveva de Santos, Bartolo Musil, Katrin Schurich), along with the idea-generator and all-determining composer Perikles Liakakis. He manages to cross borders splendidly; the last time we heard his brilliant “re-working” of the first part of Schubert’s Winterreise. The stage is cleverly designed with cardboard buttresses, together with nimble staging and choreography. What more can a music theater lover want?  Only more productions with a tempo this breezy and swift.


Paul Flieder

Paul Flieder (1953–2010) left us on July 20, from a cardiac arrest while swimming in Lake Constance. Brazen and verily unexpected.

He obviously didn’t take the time to reflect on how we would feel afterwards. His person is missing – the artist, intellectual, interrupter, bamboozler, and just that guy nearby with whom you could have endless fights, as serious as they were funny, not only about the various versions of Don Giovanni but also about goulash recipes.

He was an opera director; I followed his trail, literally. Why? I don’t know. Don Giovanni in Novi Sad. Last year the church opera in Ossiach at the Carinthian Summer Music Festival. In January, Wagner-Regenyi in Annaberg (ex-GDR).

He knew how to captivate. How, I don’t know, because I was so close to him. Whenever some rubbish appeared in the newspaper, our telephone calls and opinions were beyond number. It was a Faustian relationship, so to speak. Sometimes he was Faust and I was Mephistopheles – in the next moment it was the other way around.

Journalism, his first trade, was something he never gave up. He didn’t only take Don Giovanni to Albania and Mongolia, he also wrote about the political situation for the ORF and various newspapers.  Always perilous, always risking his life. He continually proclaimed his longing for death (a sign of depression?). In September he had wanted to go to Iraq again to film for the ORF. Would he have been shot or tortured? We know so little and understand still less.

Paul left us because of a “mechanical defect.” And not much of his work is left to us, because theater arts are fleeting. But his books remain. His last, Der Barbier von Bagdad – Leben, Sterben, Glauben im Irak (Residenz Verlag) was presented last year by Ioan Holender. I associated him more with the director of the State Opera, who appreciated Flieder’s abilities and had groomed him for the directorship at the Volksoper. But the “bad boys” of Vienna cultural politics were already at work to keep that from happening: Franz Morak as an incompetant State Secretary and that blowhard Robert Meyer. The fact that Holender couldn’t break through the phalanx is another story.

So Flieder did not live to experience the crowning of his career. But he was always able to laugh heartily about how Claus Peymann had defiantly described Franz Morak: “bad actor, bad politician.”  He didn’t want to be celebrated, even when his Iraq book was hailed by the doyen Hugo Portisch: “Paul Flieder doesn’t pay attention to big politics – he shows the people and their fight for survival, both physically and materially.”

Still, as his ever-direct Sony Classical colleague Margie Kowalski once said: “As long as we talk about people who were close to us, they haven’t died.”


Translated by Cynthia Peck.

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