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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 3 MAY 2005— Stéphane Lissner, a firm believer in the possibly unique French tradition of accumulating as many functions— and salaries— as possible, has been named the new general manager and artistic director of La Scala. This will be in addition to his positions as head of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, musical director of the Vienna Festwochen and co-director with Peter Brook of the Parisian Théâtre des Bouffes-du-Nord and the Théâtre de la Madeleine.

The 52-year-old Lissner is a latecomer to the operatic world, his earliest love being the theater. He started out as director of several theatrical centers in France, but only one at a time. It was his appointment as administrator of the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1983 that brought him in contact with the lyric stage. As director of that theater he maintained his position as a proponent of the theatrical aspect of opera, often to the detriment of the music, fostering the careers of Ruth Berghaus (a disastrous Ariane et Barbe-Bleu) or Peter Sellars, for example; while we remember a wonderful Lulu or Cunning Little Vixen, there was also a great deal of shopping among productions created at other European centers so that one endured the much-travelled Gruber Parsifal or the Berlin Lohengrin, not to mention the operatic ineptitude of young directors brought in from the spoken theater.

In the mid-1980s Lissner could be found teaching cultural administration at the University of Paris. His appetite expanded a decade later when he was appointed director of the Opera in Madrid but was never able to assume that function because of political controversy in Spain. At the same time he was appointed general director of the Orchestre de Paris for a brief stint (1994-1996), all the while remaining in place at the Châtelet.

Once established at Aix-en-Provence (1998), he managed to have both the Théâtre de l’Archeveché and the Théâtre du Jeu des Paumes renovated, and added yet another venue out of town where the apprentices could present reduced-scale performances; he even convinced the city fathers to build a new theater so that the Ring Cycle could be performed. But what can one say about having to sit through such disasters as Pina Bausch’s staging of Bluebeard’s Castle or Peter Mussbach’s Traviata, to mention but two, for the most part cast with young, occasionally untried, singers but all at elevated prices.

What will Lissner do at La Scala? More of the same presumably, but will the Milanese appreciate the starless, far-out stagings that have been the hallmark of the recent history of Aix-en-Provence? Is it truly possible to maintain control over five such different enterprises without at least one of them suffering—I am not certain.


Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com

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