Vienna State Opera rocked as maestro picks up his baton and walks over 'artistic differences'

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst says decision to quit - half way through his tenure - was the culmination of many grievances
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The Independent Culture

The resignation of its music director has left the Vienna State Opera in a state of discord just days after the start of the new season.

Franz Welser-Möst, one of Austria's most famous conductors, said he had informed the opera house's artistic director, Dominique Meyer, of his decision to resign, due to "long-standing artistic differences that were not resolved in several discussions".

His abrupt departure sent the Vienna State Opera scrambling to find replacements for his 34 planned performances this season, which include premieres of Verdi's Rigoletto and Richard Strauss's Elektra. It also left a vacancy for one of the most prestigious positions in world opera.

Welser-Möst, 54, who is also the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, said his decision to quit after four years, half way through his tenure, was the culmination of many grievances.

"It has to do with singers and directors; it has to do with the entire domain that determines the artistic direction of the house. Believe me: this is a is very painful decision for me," said Welser-Möst, who has twice conducted the New Year's concert by the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, which is broadcast live around the world.

Meyer, a Frenchman who built his country's first CD factory before becoming an opera administrator, expressed his regret at the conductor's exit.

"This is of course a great loss and the step causes me personal pain because I very much value Franz Welser-Möst as an artist and director," he said. "My concern and primary mandate is to find as quickly as possible an adequate replacement for the performances that he was to have conducted at the Vienna State Opera in 2014/15."

Welser-Möst is due in London for two BBC Proms performances with the Cleveland Orchestra, beginning tonight. That ensemble said the conductor's commitment was "not at all in doubt", with his contract set to run until 2018. He will lead the Cleveland Orchestra in Vienna later this month for a series of concerts at the city's Konzerthaus and the Musikverein.

Welser-Möst is not the first music director to bring his Vienna tenure to a premature close. Claudio Abbado resigned in 1991 after five years, on account of differences of opinion with the management.

Welser-Möst joined Meyer at the State Opera in 2010. Together, they challenged its reputation as a bastion of conservatism by programming the house's first performance of Leos Janacek's From the House of the Dead, directed by Peter Konwitschny, the German whose interpretations have polarised audiences. The 2011 production prompted boos from the audience and was savaged by critics.

That radicalism was tempered in subsequent seasons as Vienna attracted some of the opera world's biggest names, including Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Kiri Te Kanawa, Renée Fleming and Placido Domingo.

"We should count ourselves lucky that we live on a sort of island where culture is still considered important," the director once said about the Vienna State Opera. He is also a keen advocate of streaming live performances over the internet. "I want people to be able to watch opera in their pyjamas," he said.

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