I think we can all agree that we have been through a war together in
these last weeks. And I want to make quite clear from the start that
ANYTHING I am about to say now is not on the same dimension of what
some here are facing or coping with. Nor does it have the same heroic
stature of what some here have achieved in the face of extreme
adversity. It is my personal response – albeit one that has taken
immense consideration and reflection. One last battle then....
I am resigning from the post of artistic director of the Royal Opera.
In fact, the truth is, I actually resigned from this post back in late
November. Informing the management. And I am afraid here some
background detail needs to be said.
First, never lose sight of the fact that the government cuts to the
Royal Theatres are the catalyst of my actions, however not at all the
The cuts are a meaningless act of vandalism – the equivalent of taking
a flick-knife to the Mona Lisa. So tiny in any national picture: so
devastating to us. And so cynical in view of what culture can achieve
and give a community in trouble. Also in the particular case of opera
these cuts are ignorant in their immediacy. I opposed and still oppose
these openly and vocally. But I think we share all this view.
I felt impelled to resign in late November when I really saw what
these cuts meant in terms of human cost. I found it hard to live with
myself being an agent of something I so profoundly disagreed with. I
have only ever sacked one singer in my long career, and my only
philosophy was that life is divided between the creators and the
destroyers – and I had always counted on myself as a creator.
The human cost I could see was in two forms: the redundancy and
downsizing, AND the effect this would have on our provision on top
class art for this community, city, country. No outreach, no foyer
activities – all of which I have been shouting my mouth off about for
months and less performances of less operas. Anyway it would always
seem wrong to me to be spending money outside the house on projects
(which anyway should be the responsibility of any real government’s
education programme) while making people unemployed within the house.
The outreach had to go first, but was something this company
desperately needed. And I wanted for the company.
There seemed to be so few choices of what to cut and yet over and over
again I would present the possibilities of more radical lasting
change, most of which were never examined or simply blocked. Whole
areas that as the boss of the opera I simply could not touch – or even
were allowed to consider, let alone dabble with.
For example, I asked for a financial study to be done looking at us
turning to a “Stagione” system; purely as a money saving measure. And
although our brilliant planning office here at the opera did a half
season draft proposal – never did I get any financial study.
I asked for the right to look at the orchestra playing for less ballet
evenings. This would internally save overtime costs; I asked,
remember, as the head of the orchestra, not head of the opera and was
told it couldn’t be considered. Despite us facing Armageddon.
At the beginning of the cuts, I was assured that everything could be
on the table for discussion, in the end very little was – certainly
not at anything I was party too.
I wanted to look at the costs of our production house in producing
sets, which sometimes seems alarming to me, and despite one
discussion, and my providing some proof by comparing two wildly
contrasting quotes, I was basically ignored.
At the moment, the whole technical staffing of the house is being
re-drawn, re-arranged and despite the fact I have worked for over 30
years in over fifty opera houses, on 120 productions, in 17 countries
– the only person in the Royal Theatres with anything like this kind
of experience or any experience outside the Royal Theatres – I have
never been consulted or asked, and I have offered, questioned,
demanded continually. In fact, I have not even now been told what the
I ask: Why on earth am I here?
When Kim Bohr recently left the organisation, I – and the other 2
artistic directors – pleaded to appoint 2 people to fulfil his
overloaded post. One, please, a great administrator, especially in
the technical theatre field, and a second, international class fund
raiser in view of the cuts. Our pleas were ignored. In fact, the only
new foundation money which is on the horizon – from Nordea - was found
by me (an outsider who knows no-one in Denmark) through a chance
meeting in my apartment block. No major new avenues have been opened
in this entire year for the opera at least. Some have closed.
Why would I not resign? I have to front to you and the world endless
decisions over which I am given shallow choices, little real control
and absolutely no respect.
An example of my frustration, on such a silly, petty level that I am
embarrassed almost to mention it. I have two tickets to each
performance – if we have special guests, as recently happened with a
world class composer who was visiting us – and I am sitting in my
seats, I have to make a special application to get permission to have
more seats. Can you imagine what that feels like – when you are
nominally supposed to be head of the opera house. And this nonsense
goes from this, which I could laugh at, right up to the planning of
next season which is now being made by offices in the Royal Theatres,
solely due to the financial situation, without my leadership. I fight
it all, go to meetings and usually get nowhere.
So I talked of my resignation last November, finally knowing that the
cuts in light of the restrictive power I am given made the job
impossible to realise in a way that I could live with. And, to be
honest, to face you as a real rather than a puppet leader.
And in case you now hear to the contrary, I am certainly not afraid to
make cuts, we have been cutting since the first day I arrived, nor am
I fed up with being here in Copenhagen and have always wanted to
leave; this decision is a financial disaster for me, but I would feel
even worse to be taking part in something with which I didn’t approve.
I just wanted what I was promised, to be in charge of an opera
company. A job with the recognisable framework clear from a hundred
other European Opera Houses. Then I would be happy to face anything
with you and accept responsibility for their consequences.
In fact, this was why although resigning then, I’ve kept it quiet
until now. I really felt and know that you needed someone who did a
few things to see you past these tough measures – even though not
always agreeing with them. But although I feel shamefully that I
didn’t do much to divert some of the horror, I do also know that it
would all have been far worse if I had not been around. I can see
this in the decisions that were in some instances actually snatched
away from me - they are all bad moves.
These are only a few instances of my discomfort – there are many, many
more in the same vein….. Don’t even get me started on publicity for
our performances – another area I have no effectual control over.
I left the announcement until now because in this I agreed with Erik
that we needed to settle your life here before I dealt with mine. I
even promised Erik not to talk about the cuts to the press, not to
tell my agent, nor to tell Jakub. So much has only happened in the
last days. I did exactly what I was told. Until now.
I think you will hear a lot in the coming days about my leaving summed
up as not being able to fulfil my international aspirations. Apart
from the fact that this “internationalism” was mentioned over and over
again in my interviews and is a phrase that echoes more than any other
in the four year agreement, it is meaningless removed from you.
It was always the potential, the readiness, the standards that I knew
and saw here that attaches in my mind with the words “international
standard” – so, not my aspiration but your right. I could have helped
you become more apparent, not to train you up. What we needed – all we
needed – is help to fly. Yes, financial help foremost but also
backing, expertise, and vision – vision manifested in the dedication
of all who control decisions here to the art form and systems
implemented within the management that enable and support growth.
There is no limit to what I believe this company can and could still
achieve……. To do it without the money is hard – damn near impossible
- but I would have had a go. To do it with a management structure and
an air of ignorance is an endless uphill struggle and a huge pain in
the arse but it also possible. But to succeed without both, I have to
admit, it is beyond me.
If you look at the ideas and schemes I’ve tried to introduce: the
people I’ve attracted here, the programming I’ve made, the Edinburgh
Festival, the joint productions, the people in the opera business who
are now considering us a major player, the man here on my
____________, I do believe I have delivered on my part of the bargain.
I think I have merely asked others to do the same….to play fair and
give me an opportunity to really run this house. Like other Intendants
and Artistic Directors do all over Europe.
From the point I announced my resignation, no-one from the management
has ever asked, “what would it take to make you stay?” Strange, when
so much effort was put into getting me here. But if in this place, you
collectively or individually, are really to be given a chance to reach
your brilliant, clear potential, then now you must be given the
opportunity to demand your future by asking questions internally and
provoking clear answers. This opera company must be given and allowed
its own unique voice. The administration must work for you and
understand the specific demands of the Art form. They owe you their
living. They should be interested enough to ask you,
"what will it take to make you stay?". Get your answers ready.
I also really now believe that NO Artistic Director/Intendant of the
standard, ambition and quality you deserve will ever take this job, if
on top of the financial restrictions they fully understand the
organisational straightjacket before they come. And please, before
anybody starts on about ruining the tradition of the umbrella of the
Royal Theatres, I see nobody outside caring a jot how much autonomy
each art form enjoys under the umbrella – which is, of course, a
uniquely beautiful thing. But it must work for you, not against you
and your growth. We are a great art’s institution, not a bloody civil
Once I was allowed to tell my great friend and esteemed colleague
here, and after I tried to persuade him now to carry on here without
me, it made me stop short and reflect that my interests as erstwhile
artistic director of the opera now were not simply to allow a polite
press release and an awkward goodbye just to happen tonight, but to
tell the opera the truth from my point of view, and even now, at the
eleventh hour, use that to initiate a fight for your future.
In this whole sad business, when often I erred between an allegiance
to the official über-management and to you, MY opera company, I have
truly made the mistake of faltering too much, compromising too often,
and believing that I could work on and slowly change things in my own
way. But I could not. It was wrong of me not to have blown the
whistle on my discontent way, way back. But I truly didn’t want to
leave you. I should have been able to change more. If I had taken you
more into my confidence, we, together, probably could have. You still
I will miss you terribly.
My admiration for you all in the Opera has never diminished for a
moment. My love for this art-form has never waivered and never will.
I really believe that I was the right man for the job, but the job I
believed in itself proved to be a mirage. I only believe now at this
crossroads moment, bad and good, for the opera and the orchestra, for
the world stage that I never did run, that the future lies in your
hand. There have been murmurrings and mutterings and strong waves of
discontent in almost every meeting I have had with you since I
arrived. Please now examine these deeply and see if I am right, wrong
or even justified.
Jakub and I are both united in our endless trust and belief in you,
and your abilities and so we decided to make our protest together.