Neil Shicoff, Smarting from Vienna State Opera Affair, Withdraws from Salzburg Festival

Classic Arts News   Neil Shicoff, Smarting from Vienna State Opera Affair, Withdraws from Salzburg Festival
Tenor Neil Shicoff, who was just passed over for the position of chief executive at the Vienna State Opera, has withdrawn from his major engagement of the summer, singing the title role in a new production of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini at the Salzburg Festival.

In a letter to festival director J‹rgen Flimm, the tenor stated explicitly that his disappointment over not receiving the State Opera job was the reason for his cancellation. The Salzburg Festival, in a very unusual move, released the full text of Shicoff's letter and of Flimm's response.

A mainstay of the Vienna State Opera's roster, the 58-year-old Shicoff was considered for months to be the leading candidate to succeed the departing Ioan Holender as the house's Intendant in September 2010. Shicoff's candidcacy was openly, and controversially, championed by Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (a personal friend of the tenor), despite the fact that Shicoff has no experience in running any opera company. (The Vienna State Opera is one of the two or three busiest houses in the world.)

Earlier this month, Austrian culture minister Claudia Schmied circumvented the Chancellor's wishes and appointed Dominique Meyer, currently head of the Th_ê¢tre des Champs-Elys_es in Paris, to succeed Holender and tapped Cleveland Orchestra and Zurich Opera House music director Franz Welser-M‹st to follow Seiji Ozawa as the Staatsoper's Generalmusikdirektor.

In his letter to Flimm, Shicoff wrote that the appointment of Meyer was "a great surprise for me, particularly after the final stage of lengthy negotiations.

"I need a break," he continued, "to find some rest, sort out my life and priorities, distance myself from intrigues and disappointments, and reclaim my innermost being ..."

(Shicoff did say in his letter that he intends to complete his current run, through the end of this month, in the title role of Massenet's Werther at the Vienna State Opera.)

In his reply, Flimm acknowledged that he had expected Shicoff's withdrawal but made clear that the tenor was welcome at the Salzburg Festival in future years.

Taking over the title role in Benvenuto Cellini will be 36-year-old tenor Burkhard Fritz, a dramatic tenor on the roster of the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin, where he has sung such roles as Florestan, Parsifal and Cavaradossi. Among the other cast members are Vesselina Kasarova, Laurent Naouri and Mikhail Petrenko; in the pit will be Valery Gergiev conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The new production, which opens August 10, will be directed by Philipp St‹lzl, who made his name with commercials and music videos.

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