Obituary: Egon Seefehlner
Tuesday 30 September 1997
Egon Seefehlner, for 40 years one of the great cultural and artistic administrators of the post-Second-World-War era in Europe, was deputy director of the Vienna State Opera during some of the most turbulent years experienced at that venerable establishment. Fifteen years after leaving, he returned to Vienna as director. During the interim he was deputy general manager of the newly inaugurated Deutsche Oper in West Berlin, becoming director general on the retirement of the incumbent, Gustav Rudolf Sellner.
Seefehlner was born in Vienna, and studied Law at Vienna University. At first engaged in business and publishing, he did not embark on his main career until 1946, when he was appointed secretary general to the Vienna Konzerthausgesellschaft. During the 1950s it was mainly Seefehlner who was responsible for the large amount of music by contemporary composers performed in the concert halls and recital rooms of the Austrian capital.
Meanwhile, in 1954, Seefehlner became deputy director to Karl Bohm at the Vienna State Opera. In 1955, the rebuilt opera house on the Ringstrasser was opened with a festival of star-studded new productions. After the celebrations were over, the stars departed and performances slumped to routine levels. In 1956 Bohm departed too and was replaced the next year by Herbert von Karajan. At first all went well, standards rose, some 20th- century works were introduced into the repertory; but Karajan trod on too many important people's toes and in 1964 he left Vienna.
Seefehlner had left three years previously, to go to the Deutsche Oper, a brand new house with a forward-looking policy that he must have found refreshing after the conservatism of Vienna. During his years in Berlin, first as deputy general manager, then, from 1972, as director general, many operatic premieres were given, including Giselher Klebe's Alkmene (1961), Hans Werner Henze's Der junge Lord (1965) and Wolfgang Fortner's Elisabeth Tudor - as well as works by Aribert Reimann, Boris Blacher and Nicolas Nabokov.
Seefehlner returned to Vienna in 1976 as director of the State Opera. His reign opened with a gala performance of Verdi's Don Carlos, with an all-star cast headed by Montsarrat Caballe, rapturously cheered by the audience. The first new production, of Berlioz' Les Troyens, was less well received. In 1978 a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor with Edita Gruberova in the title role was a huge (and deserved) success, but, later in the year, Henze's Der junge Lord, staged by Sellner, who had been responsible for the Berlin premiere, was not liked. The Viennese public had not greatly changed.
Seefehlner stepped down as director in 1982. He was succeded by the conductor Lorin Manzel, whose tenure of the post lasted only two years. Seefehlner returned for another two years, and finally retired, after 40 years of unremitting effort, in 1986. Despire the enormous odds, he had succeeded in widening the horizons of opera in his native city, if only just by a little.
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