Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peter Konwitschny affair (updated...)

Just when we thought the Oper Leipzig became a new exciting place where the creativity meets excellence, we learned that Peter Konwitschny submitted his resignation letter to the house's intendant Ulf Schirmer. This is bad news for the Leipzig Oper and for all of us.

The news broke out on December 24, containing just a few dry lines, from which we could understand that Big Pete wanted to resign from his job as the house's chief director immediately -- starting from January 2012. Normally the contract would run until 2014.

Yesterday, Schirmer came up with a conventional statement in which he "thanked the artist for his many years of work with the Leipzig Oper and his unusual and exciting evening of theater"

The press speculates on a nagging depression that the famous workaholic Konwitschny has been occasionally suffering from (more like a mid-life crisis, I guess), and points out that the famous opera director was absent for several weeks just before The Queen of Spades and Macbeth were about to be premiered in Graz and Leipzig respectively.
In particular, all the newspapers stress that he did not attend the premiere of Macbeth in Leipzig. Unfortunately, none of them --including the excellent paper that you can find here-- mentions that Peter Konwitschny WAS in fact present at the Oper Leipzig for the second show (December 15), where I personally saw him sitting next to Bettina Bartz.
Witches from Macbeth by Peter Konwitschny, premiered in December 2011 at Oper Leipzig

The house's press-person Heike Neumann said that the season 2011-2012 will continue as scheduled, which would mean that the new production of Iphigénie en Tauride will be premiered next June.

Something that should almost naturally have happened in Paris, was actually happening in Leipzig. Instead of trying to mount a bigger, greater,... Ring des Nibelungen as to celebrate Richard Wagner's 200th birthday in 2013, Peter Konwitschny cleverly saw an opening and opted for producing The Leipzig Gluck Ring. Gluck's operas were groundbreaking for the era in which they were composed and are a constant source of inspiration today... and yes, The Leipzig Gluck Ring would celebrate the composer's 300th birthday in 2014.

Peter already directed the new productions of Iphigénie en Aulide and Alceste. The new Iphigénie en Tauride is supposed to be premiered next June, and Armide next year which would complete this original Ring.

Below are the video trailers of the first two operas of The Leipzig Gluck Ring:

[ed: if you cannot see the second video, try this link]

What to say?! I truly hope that our Big Pete will not retire completely but will just slow it down a few notches and keep doing what only a very few directors are capable to do: producing highly intelligent, unconventional, and musically the most respectful opera shows in business. Maybe he does not want to be tied up with any specific house and prefers to have a change of air... In any case, the best of luck to the operatic Peter The Great!

UPDATE: After various speculations, it's Peter himself who explains the reasons for his resignation in an interview to the radio MDR-Figaro. He talks about his disagreement with Ulf Schirmer about the way how the house should be run. The idea of the Leipzig authorities that these concepts of how to run an opera-house should co-exist was fine, except that Schrimer jumped in later, and was given the position of 'super-intendant' --thus more authority-- which is why Konwitschny felt it was time to resign, as the new policy seems to hinder the work achieved since 2009... and so it gets ugly ;(

Let us hope the problem will be solved sooner rather than later, with Peter Konwitschny remaining at the position of the chief director of Oper Leipzig.

Fellow blogger Gesamtkunstwerk is following this affair too.


  1. A pity - yet every loss is the foundation for new things :)

  2. The statement that this development would not result in program changes has meanwhile been withdrawn as a mistake. Instead spokesperson Heike Neumann now states that decisions will be made in early January. In particular it now remains to be seen what will become of the planned Iphigénie en Tauride production. Cf.

    In his radio interview Peter Konwitschny attacked the Leipzig authorities for the way how they deal with Oper Leipzig. He says that when he has been enganged in 2008 Riccardo Chailly quit as Oper Leipzig GMD for not being told about this. Now the other way round Ulf Schirmer has been appointed as director without even a single meeting. Meanwhile it turned out that their opinions differ so much that there would just be no point in continuing. A text summary of the interview is here:

    There appears to be quite some panic about the dwindling audience figures at Oper Leipzig, a problem that is not new and looks particularly bad because the house is just too large for this town, larger than Semperoper in similarly sized Dresden while not attracting tourists.

    And at present cuts in the cultural institutions of Leipzig are being considered. Recently consultants have been asked to make suggestions:

    So the resignation of Peter Konwitschny is the tip of an iceberg.

  3. Thanks for the update. So it really is deeper than just a simple coup de tête by Konwitschny.

    This is bad news in many ways... Just as I thought Oper Leipzig was becoming a new creative place to treasure, it falls apart because the city authorities wanted to "correct" the artistic content of the House, and combine the people who manifestly cannot work together.

    They should have let the Konwitschny way continue until it starts attracting more and more people. It cannot happen in 1 or 2 seasons. It takes more time but eventually it was bound to attract people (simply because they started offering something different/better...)

    How do you say the house is larger than Semperoper? Semperoper - big house? Nah...