Australian opera turned upside down by director's sacking

Kathy Marks
Tuesday 01 October 2002 00:00 BST

Australia's national opera company is in turmoil after the sacking of Simone Young, its acclaimed conductor and music director.

In a coup worthy of a Wagnerian plot, the board of Opera Australia moved against Ms Young – a glamorous 41-year-old with flowing hair and stilettos – while she was guest-conducting at the Los Angeles Opera at the invitation of the tenor, Placido Domingo. She was told her contract would not be renewed after it expires at the end of 2003.

The reason given by the board, chaired by Rowena Danziger, head of a private girls' school, was that the financially strapped company could not afford her artistic vision.

But personality clashes are rumoured with the formidable Ms Danziger, and Adrian Collette, chief executive of Opera Australia. Some artistes complained about Ms Young's abrasive style and her habit of importing foreign stars at the expense of local talent.

The axing of the Sydney-born Ms Young, the first woman to conduct Wagner's Ring Cycle in Germany, caused angry fans to create a website campaigning for her reinstatement.

Ms Young, headhunted two years ago, is credited with raising standards and giving the company a high profile. A brilliant musician, she created innovative and exciting repertoires that won rave global reviews.

Fêted by the great European and American companies, she was in such demand she was away for half of the year. Insiders say she would regularly fly in part-way through rehearsals and demand changes. "It would create havoc," one said.

Ms Young will probably move to America. She said: "This is a sad position for the arts in Australia."

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