Austrian Chancellor Under Fire for Involvement in Search for New Vienna State Opera Director

Classic Arts News   Austrian Chancellor Under Fire for Involvement in Search for New Vienna State Opera Director
Alfred Gusenbauer, the Chancellor of Austria, has been criticized for meddling in the search for a new director for the Vienna State Opera.

The Associated Press reports that Gusenbauer, 47, a socialist politician of working-class origins who is a regular at the opera, has not been content to merely enjoy the music.

He has reportedly assumed a prominent public role in the search for a new State Opera director, openly stating that American tenor Neil Shicoff would be an ideal replacement for Ioan Holender, who announced last month that he would not extend his contract when it ends in three years.

The fact that the chancellor is a close friend of Shicoff, who has indirectly expressed interest in the job (according to the AP), has led to accusations of cronyism. Opposition parties and newspapers claim that Gusenbauer is unabashedly exerting his political influence to appoint a friend with no experience of running a world-class opera house.

"It is unbelievable that the ... chancellor has charged forward with the preference for his friend instead of waiting for the results of the internal (job) search which is meant to let the best candidate come to the fore," a spokesperson for the rightist party BZOE told the AP. The Green Party reportedly mocked Gusenbauer as "an operetta chancellor who considers art important only if he can put himself onto center stage."

The AP adds that parties and papers of all political stripes have accused Gusenbauer of interfering with the job of his culture minister, Claudia Schmied, despite denials from both politicians. Socialist insiders have openly stated that they hope he will focus on issues less elitist than opera.

Gusenbauer, however, has said he considers a "prohibition of talks between the chancellor and cultural figures ... a totally absurd idea." According to the AP, he has also met with conductor Christian Thielemann, a possible candidate for musical director.

"Culture insiders, asked about their honest opinion, all consider the vision of an inexperienced opera director as a danger," wrote prominent music critic Wilhelm Sinkowicz in the daily Die Presse last week. The Kurier, meanwhile, added, "The fact that the chancellor does not hide his friendship to tenor and possible director candidate Neil Shicoff ... is legitimate and his own business. But the fact that he has made the [opera] appointment a [personal] job for the boss is not — and it strongly puts his credibility to question."

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