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Subject: Re: 2018 International Opera Awards
From: Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 30 Jan 2018 10:24:03 -0500

text/plain (63 lines)

On Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:41:07 -0500, Charles Harrison <[log in to unmask]> 
>One company notably missing from the lists is the Bastille Opera.  As far as I can 
tell, it has 
>not been nominated in a single category.  Has it fallen on hard times?  How is it 
regarded in 
>Europe?  Plenty of other French companies nominated and winning, but no 
Bastille.  Perhaps 
>Mr. Cadenhead can enlighten us, as he is on the scene.

That is an interesting observation and one that seems difficult to answer.  When 
Stephen Lissner took charge at the Opera national de Paris in 2014 many of us 
were expecting dramatic change. He had an extraordinary record of opera 
management. He was innovative when in charge at the Chatelet Theatre (I 
particularly liked his Henze opera series) while at the same time managing the 
Theatre des Bouffes du Nord with Peter Brook. In 1998, he went on to run the Aix-
en-Provence Festival and his bold vision of new rep and top talent elevated even 
the festival’s previous high standards. Then, in 2009, the Teatro alla Scala called. 
It was on the edge of collapse and he brought new stability, increased private and 
government support, wider rep and returned it to the top rank of international 

A good number of people thought that the Opera national de Lyon director, Serge 
Dorny, would take over Paris and expected Lissner to continue in Milan (he was the 
only non-Italian director in their history). Dorny has revolutionized Lyon (the next 
two operas on the schedule are Zemlinsky’s “Der Kreidekreis” and Respighi’s 
“Sleeping Beauty”) but Lissner surprised many by leaving Milan to take over the 
iconic French cultural institution. It is one of the “Big Four” Parisian cultural 
monsters - along with the Louvre and the National Library, etc. and Lissner, for 
whatever reason, has keep a steady course. There was a dip after the terrorist 
attacks in 2016 but both opera houses (where the ballet also performs) are at or 
near capacity every evening. Slight reductions in government funding have been 
met with an uptick in private donations and finances are secure. He has increased 
appearances by the big stars and gradually introduced “regie” directors in their 
more mature periods (Guth, Warlikowsky, Sellars, etc.). The repertory has been 
pushed a bit and there is always a new opera in the mix but otherwise the twenty 
plus operas are relatively standard fare. The most dramatic staging so far, the 
radical “outer-space” Boheme of Guth, got strong applause and only a few boos 
from the old guard at the Dec. 1 opening. I was there and my initial reaction was 
negative and could have joined in the boos. Guth reframed the story as a coming-
of-age story of hope meeting tragic reality needs to be considered. It forced me to 
reexamine my conventional take on the story, a tale of the innocence of youth and 
their childlike assumptions about love and life meet social failure and death. The 
banal expectations of the opera-going classes have been attacked and perhaps 
with good reason. Clearly, with this production, Lissner joins with others in 
considering opera to be a real contemporary art with a role to play in public 
awareness.  The production can be found on and is well 
conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

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