Berlin's three major opera houses are in big trouble. They're all running massive deficits and the Senat, juggling a budget of a city which is DM 60 *billion* (!) in debt is, naturally, hardly keen on bailing any of them out. At present any of these three houses is ripe for a cull. After all, if New York or London, cities which offer much less governmental subsidies to the arts and which have populations three-to-four times that of Berlin can get by with two opera houses each, why should Berlin need three?
It's a sorry tale all round. In 1984 - five years before the Wall fell - the Deutsche Oper's orchestra was granted by the Berlin Senat a "Medienpauschale" (a quarterly hefty extra payment over and above the given salary) - a purely political "please-stay-here-in-West-Berlin"-gesture typical of the blind fiscal generosity granted artists in those long-gone days. The "Medienpauschale" continued to be paid after the Wende - although it no longer had any political purpose. In late September of 1999 the Senat cancelled unilaterally the orchestra's "Medienpauschale." On 1 October 1999 fifteen members of the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper walked out (by phoning in "sick") on the very afternoon of the premiere of that opera house's new production of Schönberg's "Moses und Aaron." Players had to be flown in from all over Europe (Amsterdam, Innsbruck, Graz, etc) to play, unrehearsed, this fiendishly difficult score - and were treated like scabs by the rest of the orchestra. Within a few days of that incident, the entire DO orchestra was out on strike. Acrimony was flying thick and fast from both the orchestra, the management and the public. At present the orchestra are back in the pit, but the situation remains unresolved. This much is clear: Götz Friedrich's departure as intendant at the end of the 2000-2001 season was brought forward by his sudden death in December. He is to be replaced by the Leipzig Oper's intendant and radical modernist, Udo Zimmermann. Zimmermann's appointment, in turn, so ruffled the feathers of the Deutsche Oper's musical director Christian Thielemann that he announced he would be leaving along with Friedrich. The head of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Fabio Luisi, has been named as the DO's new musical director.
Trouble, too, at the Staatsoper. Daniel Barenboim's contract as musical director runs out in 2002 and he's stalling about re-signing it. He wants a budget increase of many millions of DM's before he does so - money that just isn't there. Intendant Georg Quander recently announced the sorry fact that every time the curtain goes up at the Staatsoper his house falls another DM 23,000 into debt. The Staatsoper, on account of its hiring the top names in opera and its bourgeois-sating classical architecture, is the glitziest of Berlin's three opera houses. Yet they've cancelled the extremely popular "Tage der alten Musik" ( an annual Baroque opera festival) and at least one of their repertoire operas ("Die Verurteilung des Lukullus" by Paul Dessau) could only be performed concertante in 2000 because the stage is falling apart and there's no money to fix it.
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