Salzburg Tries an Old/New Tack
For those of us unhealthily fascinated by managerial appointments in the arts, here and abroad, the news that Alexander Pereira has been named the new artistic director of the Salzburg Festival is of considerable interest.
On the one hand, this might seem a reversion to the bad old (or at least conservative old) days prior to Gerard Mortier, who shook up the festival and the Austrians in general in the 1990's. After him Salzburg made efforts to continue his innovations, albefit without his pugnacious flair, with the the appointments of first Peter Ruzicka, then Jurgen Flimm to succeed him. Neither lasted beynd their first five-year terms.
Pereira, who beat out Pierre Audi and Stephane Lissner for the job, will be 64 when he takes over in 2011, at which time Flimm (who's moving on to the Berlin Staatsoper) will be 69. Periera was born in Austria but has led the Zurich Opera since 1991. That might suggest that if he were such a hot ticket, he would have moved on long before from a house not quite at the level of Vienna, Milan, London, Berlin (Staatsoper) or even Paris, even if Zurich does boast a higher number of international singing stars on its roster than one might reasonably expect. So maybe the Salzburgers went for another five-year man, one who will reassert the old primacy of stars and standard repertory at the festival.
And yet, and yet: Neither the repertory nor the productions in Zurich are exactly shabby, and the level of musical performance has been top notch. Sure, famous opera singers may not wish to settle in for the months-long rehearsals demanded by some of our more exacting Regie-Theater directors. But some observers, even some who enjoy innovative productions, might question just now necessary such protracted rehearsals really are.
Certainly they will synch up neatly with Salzburg's schedule, which demands rehearsal but not months of it. The announcement of Pereria's appointment referred to him as "a complete professional" with "the experience of handling difficult financial situations." Not exactly a sweeping proclamation of his artistic vision. But it would be wrong to write him off.
What he is not, despite his age, is a post-1968er, a devotee of hard-core modernist repertory and confrontational stage direction. Yet he's not some fuddy-duddy conservative, either. (I say all this based on his work; I've never met the man.) Clearly he gets on well with famous singers. But clearly also he represents a different kind of Germanic opera administrator, more like Andreas Moeller-Zebhauser at the privately supported Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden than Mortier or Flimm. As such he will strike some Germans (and Austrians and Swiss) as a regression to the bad old days, when record companies and artist managers and bejeweled clientele ruled. For others, he may seem a needed corrective, away from directorial extremism (however brilliant) and back towards conscientious good sense.
P.S.: Pereira's successor in Zurich will be Andreas Homoki. HIs tenure at Berlin's chronically underfunded Komische Oper (Walter Felsentein's old theater) has been controversial. But as a stage director he was responsible for the greatest production of Strauss's "Frau ohne Schatten" I ever hope to see, so things don't look so bad in Zurich, either.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.