Does a Good Artistic Director Read Music? G. Korganow

Does a Good Artistic Director Read Music?

Jenna Simeonov

Paris Opera Artistic Director Stéphane Lissner. Photo: G Korganow.

I came across an article on Sinfini Music by tenor and blogger Chistopher Gillett, titled "Opera bosses - how musical should they be?" The article came out of a recent television appearance by Stéphane Lissner, artistic director of the Paris Opera. During his interview, Lissner was given a pop quiz; he was to listen to a few famous opera clips, and identify the opera and aria. He couldn't. I realize the operatic repertoire is humongous, but Lissner couldn't identify "Vissi d'arte," "Un bel dì vedremo," or "Pace, pace," for goodness' sake. The interview is in French, but you don't need to speak it to get the gist:

Rightly so, Gillett called into question the fact that many "opera bosses" aren't musicians. "Sure, some of them will have worked in opera houses for quite a while, learning the ropes on their way up the greasy pole. But I bet I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of opera directors who are musicians in any shape or form. I've certainly met very few who can actually read a score."

Is this a product of delegation among a large company? Does it have to do with opera's need for business-savvy administration? Someone who can't read music doesn't necessarily lack the great ear that an artistic director needs, but Gillett puts it well: "Perhaps that isn't an absolute necessity. But then again, I wouldn't dream of applying to captain a cricket team because, the last time I checked, I had absolutely no cricketing skills whatsoever beyond shouting 'Oh, well played!' from time to time."

What do you think? Do musically untrained artistic directors add to the problem of alienation between opera and its audiences? Or are opera companies right to leave arts administration to those who make it their day job, and leave the art to the artists? Read the full article here.

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