Operastagecoach BLOG

Changes at Stuttgart from 2011 are a vote for continuity

The decision to conclude Manfred Honeck's engagement as the Generalmusikdirektor of the Stuttgart opera is unsurprising, since it was in part the breakdown in the relationship between Honeck and current Opera Intendant Albrecht Puhlmann that led to the decision not to renew Puhlmann's contract after an initial 5-year term.
 The decision that Puhlmann's replacement is to be the Israeli opera and theatre director, Jossi Wieler, is a vote for continuity in Stuttgart with the former regime of Klaus Zehelein (and Pamela Rosenberg) who between them discovered and launched the joint careers of Wieler and his frequent collaborator, the Stuttgart dramaturg Sergio Morabito - the latter having been also named to take over in 2011 as chefdramaturg. Honeck was engaged by Puhlmann on account of his distinction in the classic German rep, after a number of conductors Puhlmann proposed had been turned down by the orchestra. In Germany the appointment of general music directors almost always involves obligatory consultation with the players themselves. Honeck has had some success in Stuttgart with works like Idomeneo, Lohengrin and Les Troyens and with some of his concert programmes. But the GMD position was a difficulty for Zehelein too during his 15 years in charge from 1991.
 The ostensible reason for the decision to dump Honeck is clear enough - that Honeck did not want to tie himself down to more work in Stuttgart, considering he also has permanent engagements conducting in Pittsburgh and Prague. His GMD contract in Stuttgart is for four months of the year plus revival and/or performance dates. But, in fact, there was never any likelihood of Honeck remaining, since Morabito and Wieler knew that it had been Honeck's manoeuvring with the politicians concerned that was a major contribution to their decision not to renew Puhlmann's term as Opera Intendant after 2011.
 Wieler will be looking for someone to complete his dream of a committed team under his and Morabitós aesthetic direction, which would be in stark contrast to Honecḱs musical ideals. However as the renovation of the Opera House will occupy much of the first season following Honecḱs departure. So there is little hope of attracting a big "name" or even a satisfactory candidate from the orchestra’s admittedly choosy point of view. There is talk of a search for an interim "Chief Conductor" ( with the title Chefdirigent, which is a much less influential designation than GMD).
 A very interesting additional factor in Stuttgart is the appointment of Eva Kleinitz as Operndirektorin. Kleinitz has most recently been in charge of casting at the Brussels Monnaie. The title is different (and the power is differently structured) in the arrangements proposed for Stuttgart from 2011. But, in effect, Kleinitz will be doing the same job that Pamela Rosenberg did as Co-Intendantin with Zehelein: in other words opera planning and casting. Wieler and Morabito will be doing jointly Zehelein's job, but without Wieler holding Zehelein's title of Staatsintendant.
 Stuttgart politicians responsible for these changes are hoping to preserve or regain the company's high repute in German operatic circles. And bringing in Kleinitz is additional insurance that an outsider's view will play a part in the flavour of the work, with a more eclectic range of styles encouraged than in recent Puhlmann years. Honeck’s career will continue on its present international course.
 More interesting will be what job Puhlmann ends up with. As the late and great Herbert Wernicke’s favourite dramaturg, who ran the opera programme at the Theater Basel when Wernicke was doing a great deal of work there, and as the opera impresario who gave British directors Nigel Lowery and Tim Hopkins a chance to work in Switzerland and Germany, Puhlmann has demonstrated a readiness to take risks. But his record of carrying audiences along with him was not so good in Hanover, where he took over after a long and very conservative regime. His backing for Calixto Bieito was controversial there, and of course Bieto’s productions are not all equally good. But the fact that Barrie Kosky’s productions are able to be so well received in Hanover may owe something to the risks that Puhlmann - which in a sense have been paying off ever since he left. Puhlmann’s contracts failed to be renewed both in Hanover and in Stuttgart - though in Hanover he got the chance to inherit Stuttgart from Zehelein before he was actually pushed out.
 Companies in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Dresden and Cologne have new teams or have artistic leadership with which they seem currently content. Perhaps the lack of artistic success of the new Munich regime might lead to an opening for Puhlmann - but not in a hurry since the politicians who have been responsible for the uncertain succession to the Sir Peter Jonas’s hugely popular regime there from 1993 to 2006 are scarcely likely to want to oust Nikolaus Bachler in a hurry since it would reflect poorly (with considerable justification) on their judgment.
 There is always the Staatsoper in Berlin, but it too is about to enter an interim period for the rebuilding of the house. If Zehelein were to retire from the running of the August Everding TheaterAkademie in Munich, Puhlmann would certainly be a front runner for the job. But Zehelein appears to be enjoying his position there and is under no pressure to hand over to anybody else. The Stuttgart audience is loyal to its company. But Puhlmann may have acquired a reputation for too much modernism in his commissioning of work. He arrived in Stuttgart with an unusually large number of singers and other opera people who had been with him in Hanover - which was not very popular in Stuttgart. His casting director Oliver Kretschmer preceded him to the guillotine. A company at the right level of distinction and funding does not immediately spring to mind.


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