Aria of grievance by opera boss who got the chop

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The Independent Online
PARIS - The South Korean musical director of Paris' five-year-old Opera-Bastille said yesterday he was considering suing for wrongful dismissal after being sacked on Friday, writes Julian Nundy.

Myung Whun Chung, 41, said if the management persisted in saying he had left of his own accord, he would return to the opera house - built as part of the grands travaux architectural monuments of Francois Mitterrand's presidency - tomorrow for the rehearsals of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra which opens the autumn season. An Australian, Simone Young, has already been taken on to conduct the opera and is expected to arrive for the start of rehearsals.

Ironically, Ms Young's permanent post is that of assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin State Opera. Barenboim was himself dismissed from the Paris Opera in 1989 in a row which shook the musical world.

At that time the elegant Opera Garnier with its ceiling decorated by a swirling Marc Chagall painting was expected to be overshadowed by the new building with its state-of-the-art theatre technology. In the event, both houses are in trouble, mainly because of a long- decried lack of artistic planning and also for more mundane reasons. The Opera Garnier is to close shortly for renovation while the Bastille is also to shut down for work as it has sunk deep into debt.

Myung's long-expected departure was announced after the management of the Opera tried to renegotiate his contract. Apart from wanting to reduce his pay - 3.58m francs ( pounds 430,215) - in an average year, the administration wanted the musical director to come under the authority of the new overall director, Hugues Gall. Until now, the musical director was theoretically free to plan the repertoire and recruit artists.

The daily, Le Monde, said the problems stemmed from too much political interference in music in France. Pierre Berge, then the head of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, was the director who fired Daniel Barenboim. Mr Berge was widely said to have had the post because of his close friendship with the Socialist Mr Mitterrand. Barenboim's contract had been drawn up under a conservative government.

Since Myung 's arrival five years ago, the Paris Opera has recorded eight albums with EMI and Deutsche Gramophon, an unprecedented commercial recognition for an opera with little previous international renown. Myung, voted the musical personality of the year by French critics in 1991, said he had had no negotiations with the Opera management only 'a series of ultimatums, all identical'.