October 2013: Teatro Real Names New Artistic Director; Mortier to Step Down ImmediatelyOctober 2013: Teatro Real Names New Artistic Director; Mortier to Step Down Immediately
By RAPHAEL MINDER
MADRID –The opera house Teatro Real put an end on Wednesday to an unusually public and tense leadership dispute by replacing Gerard Mortier as its artistic director with Joan Matabosch.
While the Belgian-born Mr. Mortier was previously expected to remain in his position in Madrid until 2016, the Teatro Real said in a statement that Mr. Mortier would hand over the position “with immediate effect” to Mr. Matabosch, who has been the artistic director at the Liceu opera house in Barcelona since 1996.
The announcement brings to an abrupt close what had long been seen as a difficult relationship between Mr. Mortier and the executive committee of the Madrid opera house. It also comes only days after Mr. Mortier revealed that he was being treated for cancer in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País. In the same interview, he criticized the Teatro Real’s management for trying to find a Spanish substitute rather than tapping into what he called the more talented pool of foreign directors.
Mr. Matabosch, a Spaniard, said in a phone interview that he was ready to take charge in Madrid soon, “but obviously I can’t leave the Liceu overnight so I will for some time probably combine somehow the two places, although that involves doing very different things.”
Mr. Matabosch said his goal at the Teatro Real would be “not to copy literally what Mortier has done, but it will be a project of continuity rather than trying to do the opposite and undermine the extraordinary legacy that he has left in Madrid.” He added: “I’m not one of his students, but I absolutely admire Mortier and he has had a real influence on me.”
During a high-profile career that also involved running the Salzburg festival and the Paris Opera, Mr. Mortier established a reputation as a provocateur who shook up traditional opera houses with daring stagings and contemporary works to mixed effects.
But even by his own standards of non-conformism, his criticism of the Teatro Real’s appointment process – including his assessment that “I don’t see any candidates in Spain” – clearly ruffled feathers within the Teatro Real’s establishment.
“The Teatro Real is a very peculiar place, very subject to political pressures, where one needs to move with a lot of caution,” said Carmelo Di Gennaro, a former deputy artistic director of the Teatro Real, ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. “That is something that Mortier never managed to do.”
Furthermore, Mr. Di Gennaro noted that the Teatro had a statutory obligation to promote Spanish artists and the country’s repertory. Instead, he argued, Mr. Mortier “started out by disregarding everything that had to do with Spain.”
Mr. Matabosch said: “Obviously the Teatro Real needs international singers of the highest level but as a Spanish state theater, it also must promote Spanish careers and talent. Making the two goals compatible is far from impossible.”
Mr. Mortier took charge of Madrid’s opera house in 2010 after resigning early from his previous post at New York City Opera when the company cut its budget to just over half of what Mr. Mortier had been promised.
But in Spain, he found himself confronted with a recession-hit economy that has also forced deep austerity cuts by the government, including reductions in state subsidies to the Teatro Real by 33 percent this year.
“Mortier has always turned his back on the social and political reality of Spain,” said Arturo Reverter, a Spanish opera critic.
Mr. Mortier left Madrid a few months ago and is undergoing treatment in Germany. A spokeswoman for the Teatro Real, Graça Prata Ramos, said the Teatro wished him a full recovery.
Ms. Prata Ramos would not comment on Mr. Mortier’s recent remarks, but insisted that the succession process had started in June, before Mr. Mortier’s illness was known and “with his involvement.”
Gregorio Marañón, the president of the Teatro Real, insisted that Mr. Mortier had not been fired, but said that Mr. Mortier’s “highly unusual” and public comments on the selection process, as well as his threat to quit if he did not approve of the choice of his successor, made it unfeasible for the opera house to risk ending up without any artistic director.
“I have never seen in my professional career a top director of a major cultural institution threaten to leave on the next day if whoever is chosen doesn’t suit him,” Mr. Marañón said by phone. In addition, Mr. Mortier’s declarations “created an image problem for the Teatro Real, as a place not able to keep confidentiality on what is clearly an internal process” of selection, Mr. Marañón said.
The president said that the Teatro Real’s executive committee had tried to reach Mr. Mortier before taking its decision on the timing of the succession, but that Mr. Mortier “would not take the phone.” The two eventually talked after the committee’s meeting and agreed to discuss the situation again on Thursday.
“The Teatro Real wants to remain on good terms with Gerard Mortier, so we will reach an agreement that will be to his satisfaction,” Mr. Marañón said.
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