GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest today the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender.
If Hollywood was looking to cast the perfect opera house director he would be ideal. He looks the part with his shock of white hair, his steely eyes, his military bearing still at age 74, his tough minded management and the sheer power he exerts over the institution. And he brings a certain flair as well. He once arrived at the tradition-bound Vienna Opera Ball in period costume, driving a horse-drawn antique carriage right onto the stage of the house as he transported star soprano Anna Netrebko. Not bad for someone who started out in his native Romania studying engineering of steam equipment, then jumping to become a tennis coach, on to studying opera singing in Vienna followed by a short career doing that, and then becoming one of the most powerful agents representing a who’s who of performers in the opera world. No one would ever accuse him of winning a popularity contest but he has managed to hold his coveted government appointed position for 18 years - the longest run ever in Vienna – a city known for its intrigues at the opera house. Ioan Holender, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
IOAN HOLENDER: Thank you.
KAPLAN: You know, I’m glad we can catch you when you’re in town. You and I have a long relationship now, and you’re in town for the Gala of the Met’s 125th anniversary. And it was recently reported that they raised $6.3 million dollars in a single evening – it’s quite astounding. Maybe it will make up for some of the loss they’ve had in their endowment. I mean, how does that strike you as a director of an opera where you have some private support that you’ve arranged; but mostly you get money from the city and the state? Could this happen in Vienna, this kind of an occasion?
HOLENDER: No, it couldn’t happen in Vienna. But I want only to complect that I am here, for the anniversary of 125 years of the Metropolitan, but also for the anniversary of 40 years Plácido Domingo at the Metropolitan. Plácido Domingo which had anniversary of forty years also at the Vienna State Opera, one year before the Met he started in Vienna - the Metropolitan debut came after Vienna, and the forty years of Domingo’s activity, are also my forty years of life, so I came for both events.
KAPLAN: Well, of course, many of the star singers sung at the Met and have sung in Vienna. I’m just curious, given the different financial structures, without revealing any numbers, how does the fee a singer receives in Vienna compare to the Met? Is it higher? Lower? About the same?
HOLENDER: With the high Euro, and with the low dollar, now the fees in Europe are higher as in America. But this is the first time in my life that it is so. And I remember the time for twenty-five years when they asked to be paid in dollars in Europe. Now they ask to be paid in Euros in the United States.
KAPLAN: I see. Let’s talk just a little bit before we come to your first piece of music comparing the Met and the Vienna State Opera in a different context. Now, at the Met, they do 27 productions a year. And you do close to sixty in Vienna. And they rehearse quite a bit, you rehearse very little. How would you contrast these two approaches?
HOLENDER: I think it is not comparable. The Vienna State Opera plays ten months, so let’s say we have 250 opera performances. We have about - we have exactly 52 different titles in opera. We have performances any day from the first of September to the 30th of June. What the Met never had and never has -
KAPLAN: Seven days a week?
HOLENDER: Seven days a week, but never two performances as the Met has on Saturday - only one performance. You said we rehearse a bit, and the Metropolitan rehearses much more. It’s correct somehow and somehow not. The system is another one. Here is a stagione system, to take the singers for any performance and for the part. You pay them for the part. About 67% exactly from the singers from the Vienna State Opera are members of the house, paid monthly. The system in America is absolutely different, because we live in an absolute capitalistic world, where you are paid for what you do. If you are not singing, you are not paid.
KAPLAN: So we’re going to come back to your sort of artistic view of how to manage things in a minute but I think we should turn to your very interesting list of musical selections today. And we start, I see, with Korngold, and with a work that I believe at the moment is being performed at the Vienna Opera.
HOLENDER: Yes. Die tote Stadt from Korngold is performed at the Vienna State Opera these days, with Angela Denoke in the part of Marietta. And I think, not only myself, but all the auditorium was touched last Sunday by the big gala from the Metropolitan, when Renée Fleming sung this last fantastic melody of “Glück, das mir verblieb” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. And I remember that our big musicologist, Marcel Prawy said, “’Glück, das mir verblieb’ from Die tote Stadt is the last composed melody in our time.”
KAPLAN: The moving aria “Glück, das mir verblieb” (“My happiness that remained”) from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt sung by Renée Fleming with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate – the first selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender – an aria he said was described by the Vienna Opera’s expert on historical opera to be the last appearance of a true melody in opera – one that was written about 1920. If any of our listeners can identify a beautiful melody composed later, we’d love to hear from you. Please email them to email@example.com. All right, let’s talk about you as the manager of an institution. I understand there was a report recently in Austria that singled out the State Opera and cited your management of it as the right way to do things, especially financially during this difficult time. Now long before trouble set in you had already built up reserves didn’t you so you could weather a storm. And I found it interesting you were bold enough to be quoted in the paper saying “Everybody has worries and troubles but” - that you, at the Opera, “only had worries but no troubles yet at the moment.” Tell me what you feel are the biggest mistakes that opera directors make in running their house – things that they should try to avoid.
HOLENDER: I think the most important thing is, if they would think a little much more as they do for what they wouldn’t agree to pay because we generally in opera, we pay for a lot of things which - for what we shouldn’t pay anything.
KAPLAN: Can you give an example of what that might be?
HOLENDER: To a stage director which we had in mind that he’s doing a new Tristan, and the agency then wrote us, wrote me, “please, the stage director needs five of the best records from Tristan,” and the theater should buy them and give it to him, so that he can learn the work for what he is paid to do. And I answered – “excuse me – he can buy what he wants, I don’t buy him anything. Why should I buy him this?” But here I am the bad man, I am the bad Holender, and this is my bad reputation, but I am proud about this reputation.
KAPLAN: That’s, we would say, penny-ante, I mean, that’s a small amount of money. Of course you shouldn’t have to do it anyhow.
HOLENDER: I am convinced in my life, in my business life and in my private life that the big money comes from the small money and that the small money you lose much money.
KAPLAN: You know, in spite of the success, the financial management, full houses that I’ve observed most times that I’ve been there, you have been subject to criticism from your colleagues, which is unusual, and I know you’ve responded to both of them, and I think it would be interesting to hear about it today. The Director of La Scala said that as a result of not enough rehearsals, the productions simply aren’t good enough, and Gérard Mortier, when he was in Salzburg, said that the Vienna Opera really is a museum because you don’t pay enough attention to modern opera. What would you say about those?
HOLENDER: Vienna State Opera is also a museum, as all the operas - it’s not so bad to be a good museum. And of course, 90% from what we bring, and from what all the other houses bring, are works that were written in the past. We have old productions, yes, a lot of old productions, and nobody can change all these old productions, and some new productions, and sometimes the old productions are much better and more quality as the new productions. We speak too much about what we see in the music, and we are dishabituated to hear. Hearing is not less important as seeing.
KAPLAN: But is there anything to Lissner’s suggestion that more rehearsals would produce better performances, meaning sound?
HOLENDER: Yes, on principal yes. But the difference between the Scala orchestra and the Vienna orchestra, and between the repertoire system - we play – I don’t know - Elektra from Strauss let’s say - very complicated music, a lot of times during the season. The Scala or the Metropolitan, they play five or eight performances in a row, and then two years they don’t play it more. If you’re going to play it, of course, they have to rehearse it. But in the times of Mahler, in times of Karajan, in times from Richard Strauss before, and also now I try to play these works every two or three weeks, then you don’t need to rehearse it every time. It’s a different system of programmation and you as conductor; you spoke perhaps without being conscious of how important it is what you said about sound. Karajan came to the Vienna State Opera, and his first performance was, as you know, Tristan, without rehearsal. And Knapperbusch never rehearsed, and these examples with the past comes, and if today a conductor wish rehearsals or I give him the rehearsals, then still it came sometimes the answer, “Why he need it? We don’t need it. He needs it.” It’s a very stupid answer. It is a very un-artistical answer, from my point of view. I had a lot of discussions with Simon Rattle when he came to conduct Parsifal, and he comes now back next season with Tristan. And I try to say without any success, to members of the orchestra, “We don’t like how this man is conducting Salome. This is not our style.” And I say to them, “You have to play as he conducts, if you like it or you don’t like it. You must give the respect to the conductor to play his interpretation. And, not he has to conduct as you like it.” This is a fundamental thing, by the way, by this orchestra. And this, I go, but this is the biggest problem what we have, and I told to Welser-Möst and Dominique Meyer if they don’t resolve this problem, it wouldn’t work out. Because today you cannot make music so, they know it, I know it, let’s go ahead with it. The time is over with this. An orchestra must try to play as the conductor is conducting. These nice jokes from Vienna, “What the man conducted yesterday?” And the answer is, “I don’t know what he conducted, we played Beethoven’s Fidelio.”
KAPLAN: Well, a good story, but you know it actually sounds like it could be part of a plot of a Wagner opera and it provides a nice transition into your next musical selection which in fact is Wagner, Das Rheingold.
HOLENDER: Yes, for two reasons. The two reasons are, that my personal view of opera is that Wagner, Der Nibelungen Ring is opus maximum from all that was composed in the world. These four works are for me the top of the top. And the second reason, one of the two reasons is that in this part of Rheingold, I chose the “Heda! Hedo!” It is a song of Donner, the end of the work, sung by a man who influenced all my life in a very imperative and a very decisive form - this is Eberhard Wächter, the big baritone – known as - from the Vienna State Opera, from Bayreuth and so on. He is singing the Donner, and he was chosen as General Manager for the Vienna State Opera now for twenty-two years, and he asked me to do it together with him. And we started this work in 1991 together, and tragically he died after six, seven months. It was the second of April in 1992, and then I continued alone for nineteen years. But without Wächter, I wouldn’t sit here Mr. Kaplan; I wouldn’t talk to you - you wouldn’t talk to me, if Wächter wouldn’t chose me then, in the direction of the State Opera. And this was a very, very, very good part of not only of music, but also of singing, and of the interpretation from Eberhard Wächter, with Rheingold’s Donner.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the concluding moments of Wagner’s Das Rheingold sung by Eberhard Wächter, the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Georg Solti. A selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender – in memory of Eberhard Wächter with whom he once jointly ran the Vienna State Opera. When we return we’ll talk about the special relationship between the Vienna State Opera and the same people when they become the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. Let’s talk about the Vienna Philharmonic and the special relationship there is between it and the Opera. As many of our listeners know, the Vienna Philharmonic starts out as the orchestra of the State Opera and then at times sets out on its own to do symphonic concerts, completely independent of the Opera. In the old days it used to mean a small number of concerts, but today, they now play more and more concerts both in Vienna and go on extensive tours as you certainly know. But you’ve expressed some concern about this haven’t you?
HOLENDER: This is really, now you’ve touched the most sensitive point and the biggest problem. They wrote an agreement from 1952 - are ten Philharmonic concerts, and somebody changed ten with a pencil with 12. That’s all. Today, we don’t pass one day that they are not playing somewhere, something - in Vienna, as you say, or out of Vienna. The record time is dead for the moment or for the moment also for the future years surely. The records - what they did was - in Vienna, done in Vienna in the afternoon, and they didn’t have to leave the town. The world is full of money today, much more as it ever was, and all the cities can pay everybody. This is the biggest problem from the interpretive arts. Caruso sang at the Metropolitan. In his life, he sang two performances at the Vienna State Opera; he sang for La Scala, but he didn’t go all over the world. Today, from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to India and to China, and to Japan, not only Tokyo, and, and, and, and they want the best of the best. All the world can pay the best of the best, The Vienna Philharmonic is the best of the best, so they go also to Australia, and they are more away than here.
KAPLAN: But are you really suggesting that the increase traveling and workload is affecting the quality of the orchestra’s work?
HOLENDER: My answer is very clear. I am since eighteen years the head of the Vienna State Opera and we didn’t change the quantity of work what they have to do in my house. As more they do there, as less they are here, the more tired they are, is less times they have to study, to read, to prepare themselves. That’s how they make chamber music, which is very important. Then they teach, which is very important. Now they have a fantastic contract with Rolex, but for this fantastic contract they get a lot of money, but for a lot of money they have to do also something. The Musikverein is the best concert hall for Vienna, as you know they cancelled now five concerts in the Musikverein, to do it somewhere else, where there is more money. And newspapers write about this as the situation is really very, very, very bad.
KAPLAN: You know I think it’s fair to say that there have always been intrigues at the Vienna Opera. And your next musical selection brings us to someone who was himself at the center of such intrigues. You might even describe him as your predecessor, Gustav Mahler.
HOLENDER: Ja, Gustav Mahler. I don’t consider myself as a follower from Gustav Mahler, because he was some genius and in this position and the most important man in the story of this house is surely Gustav Mahler, as in the story from Vienna’s music life from the last century. And it is something absolutely extraordinary, this love letter, what we call the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, without words, only with music, to make a communication to a girl, to a woman, to a feminine person; a love declaration in music touched me any time. But there are a lot of reasons that I choose this music. I have many, many years that Gilbert Kaplan, with whom I have the pleasure to speak now, but they are two very different things. The relation between Gilbert Kaplan and the State Opera, where, I don’t know, how shall I say, you, or shall I say he, did a lot for Mahler. And through Gilbert Kaplan, we received a painting from a big painter, Kitaj, who painted Mahler, who never made paintings on command, but only because Gilbert Kaplan asked him to do this. That’s one thing. A hundred years after Mahler started in the Vienna State Opera, Gilbert Kaplan gave a memorable speech on the stage of the Vienna State Opera on this time, and the conductor Kaplan, who conducted in my town, in my little town in Romania, the Second Symphony from Mahler, “Auferstehung Symphony.” So all this together gives me, it is a reason to play this music, conducted by this deep, “kenner” we say in German, “knower” conductor, but also really “knower” and what Kaplan wrote and what Kaplan discovered for the Second Symphony of Mahler, helped so much all the big conductors, that at least when I am here, I wish to hear this, under his baton.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the dreamy “Adagietto” movement from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, a musical love letter without words he sent to his bride to be. My own recording with the London Symphony Orchestra chosen, I should add with some overly flattering words, by the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender, my guest today on “Mad About Music.” I’d like to now turn to one of your best known initiatives, a concert you produced called “A House Remembers” where you played music that had been banned by the Nazis. Now in explaining why you felt you had to do it, you said “We had to tell the truth. I feel we are cleaner today than yesterday; that we have been washed.” Tell me about this concert.
HOLENDER: There was two concerts in this direction. This was the first one: “A House Remembers after Fifty Years.” What we didn’t write in the title, but what I hoped that some people understood: at least Fifty Years. I said only things which didn’t happen in Austria after the war. Austrians likes very much to consider that it’s only seven years, it’s not so much, ‘38-‘45, that it never happened. It never was. Nobody was. We didn’t was. It was Germany came, we went away, and now we are back. So, what do we have to change after ‘45? As nothing happened we don’t have to change anything. I wanted only to make it clear what music wouldn’t be played more in the next thousand years if things would run ahead as some people wanted it. That’s all. That was the dramaturgy from this evening. And the orchestra played works from forbidden composers.
KAPLAN: Well, from the sublime then, to the ridiculous. Another Holender initiative, which is not on quite the same level: the Opera Ball. The Opera Ball of Vienna, where I read in a paper, great detail, that a very big business tycoon in Vienna always brought stars to the opera, and that he announced that this particular year he was going to bring Paris Hilton. And the - well I should read it to you, because I brought it with me, it’s quite amusing: “ Learning about Paris Hilton, the host, the eternal Director of the State Opera, Ioan Holender, with Paris Hilton flying in, he wants to steal the show. He’s bringing a guest that not even this business tycoon would have thought of inviting: A horse. Holender will ride around the room in a carriage from which opera star Anna Netrebko will descend and sing three arias.” Is that in character for you in general? It sounds like a bit of a grandstanding act I don’t normally associate with you.
HOLENDER: It is true! I said really, “I have no stars, I have no Paris Hiltons.” Opera stars are not known, but I shall bring for the next opera ball a person-not a person, an individual in life here which never was - a horse.” But why the horse? And why Netrebko? Because after the opera, the Opera Ball, was a Manon premiere. And I thought, Manon is coming with a post-diligence to Amiens - it is a story from Manon. So, from the museum, from the Technical Museum, I rent a post-diligence, you say in English?
KAPLAN: Well, a carriage.
HOLENDER: A carriage, but a post carriage as it was for a hundred years. And in this Netrebko came in and then they needed somebody to stay with the horse. And Anna thought, “Mr. Holender, please you do this.” And OK, I do it. Now the Opera Ball is a stupid story. Once a year I have to do it if I like it or not, and we net about one million Euros-neto from this Opera Ball, which is a lot of money.
KAPLAN: OK - well then, we’ll come back to your music, and we come to that part of the show we call the “wildcard” where you are to pick music that’s not an opera, not a classical piece. We’ve had some rather unusual choices by guests on the show and so what is your choice today?
HOLENDER: My choice would be, and I would be very happy if we can hear a little from Romanian folklore music, from fantastic music, popular Romanian folklore interpretation from this popular singer, Maria Tănase. I think she was known then also in the United States, so of course we have a lot of Romanians, also, and I am very happy that we can hear now a little from this music.
KAPLAN: “I have loved and will again” sung by Maria Tănase, a traditional folk song from Romania, the birthplace of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. When we return we will explore how the Vienna State Opera can have an artistic vision when it presents close to 60 different operas each season.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. You know, we’ve talked so much about the management of opera, but not your artistic vision. I suppose it’s fair to question whether in fact there is an artistic vision when you’re presenting, what is it, close to 60 different operas each season.
HOLENDER: I think yes. My artistic vision is first of all the quality, the quality of what we do. If the quality is high, if you are able to touch the public, so that they are curious that they go - it is not a very cheap sentence what I say, if they go out more rich as they came in, they would come back. And they would ask them, “Now you were in the opera – how was it?” “Ah, it was fantastic!” “Why?” “I don’t know why.” They must not know why. You must not explain all what touched you. Opera has also a sensual art of communication. People get crazy for voices; they get crazy for four hundred years for voices.
KAPLAN: I see. Now do you have any regrets that there were things you wanted to do, and didn’t get to do? By way of context, when your colleague Joseph Volpe was on the show, I asked him that same question, because he was stepping down, and he said, he regretted not getting enough of the productions and the orchestra playing at Carnegie Hall, on television, taped for the future. That was his regret. Do you look back and say, “I wish I did that, but didn’t get to it?”
HOLENDER: I realized much less as I wanted. I regret more what I didn’t make as what I made. So we have to speak very much if I have to answer you this question.
KAPLAN: Well, give just one or two examples of things you wish you did, but didn’t do.
HOLENDER: It’s a pity that I didn’t, wasn’t able for political reasons to get the Theater an der Wien as a second stage for the State Opera. I’m happy that they do now opera, but they do 90 performances in a year, and this is very small, and it would be a good thing to resolve all the orchestra problem in another way. I regret that I couldn’t resolve, really deeply all the problems with the orchestra about what we spoke. And to finish and to be short, I learned a lot in these nineteen years, so that I would be able, if I would have the possibility once more to make another nineteen years, to not make the same mistakes which I did in this time.
KAPLAN: O.K., well, then, we’ll come back to your music and then we’ll continue on, and the next composer is Enescu.
HOLENDER: Enescu is a most representative personality from my country, from Romania. Enescu as humanist, Enescu as musician. Enescu was a genius violinist, as pianist and as conductor. This was his problem, because he was an absolute extraordinary composer and he wrote one opera. We played together in a co-production with Berlin, it’s a pity that no American house played it ‘til now, but perhaps it comes in the future. And now we would hear one of the most popular but very Romanian-inspired works, First Rhapsody from Enescu, and if you hear this, somehow you see the woods in my country.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, the London Symphony Orchestra led by Antal Doráti, music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. All right, we’ve talked about many topics today and what is left to talk about is the future. You finish your assignment at the Vienna Opera next year. So what can you tell us about what you will do when you step down?
HOLENDER: I have three consultant works for two of the big opera houses in the world, one in Europe, one in the United States and I would continue in my work as an artistical consultant of the Tokyo Spring Festival, which I started together with Seiji Ozawa, he left. I came back now to my glorious past as tennis player; I go also to play, after 70, very successful tennis. I have the two professorships in the University and it is o.k. and enough for me. It is not so easy to find the right moment to go and you must know that all in life, what starts, finishes.
KAPLAN: Very true, but before we finish here we should probably talk a bit about conductors because I suspect that you have worked with more different conductors than anyone. Do you have an all time favorite?
HOLENDER: Yes. I have a favorite for a man, which was so near to the absolute where we never arrive, in art and in no other connection who tried to touch the absolute. Only God can touch it. And the fight, from this man, all his life, to come as near as possible to what music is, to what is behind the notes, what is written - is and stays for me Carlos Kleiber, absolutely the biggest without comparison. And I knew him from a very, very, very long time ago, when I made audition as singer, ‘66, I think, in Dusseldorf, where he was engaged as a ripetitore. I accompanied myself, by my audition, but they didn’t give me the job. But in the last three years of Kleiber’s life, I was, I think, perhaps, the nearest person. People don’t know so much about this. His daughter knows it. In letter form, I have a lot of Kleiber letters, very important letters I think, and we met in München, in Grünewald, and we walked and we spoke and we didn’t spoke. And we ate, I was not able to get him back, of course I tried it, in the way as I thought it was good to try it. The six performances of Rosenkavalier in Tokyo what he did in my direction, and the three Rosenkavaliers in Vienna, remain something that we will never hear more. We corresponded also after the death of his wife. I felt very near to him, and I am happy now to end our really very deep and very nice discussion and I thank you very much to give me this occasion, and I excuse myself for my dreadful English, but I am happy and I wanted to finish with Kleiber, and this little piece from Traviata which he conducted with this fantastic interpretation, was Ileana Cotrubaş, my Ileana Cotrubaş which I discovered in Romania, this little girl which made such a fantastic way in her real interpretation. Carlos Kleiber, “Addio del passato” from Traviata, with Ileana Cotrubaş. I cannot imagine a deeper and sensitive end of our nice discussion.
KAPLAN: The aria “Addio del passato” from Verdi’s La Traviata sung by Ileana Cotrubaş, the Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera, and on the podium, the legendary conductor, Carlos Kleiber, regarded as the greatest conductor of all time by my guest today on “Mad About Music", the Director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. All right, as we come to the conclusion of the show, we come to the question that all guests have to answer and that means you and it has to do with fantasies - no, no – I only mean musical fantasies. So if you could be a star in any other aspect of the music profession – conductor, composer, violinist, pianist – what would it be?
HOLENDER: I would like to be the general manager from the Musikverein or from the Carnegie Hall to do only music without stage directors.
KAPLAN: Marvelous! Probably the least expected answer one would think.
HOLENDER: If I could wish something once more in my life, I would like to do what you are doing. It’s a beautiful soul from the world, and you can make only good music. And you must not care about staging, because the biggest problem is the staging stuff.
KAPLAN: All right, Ioan Holender you have been a wonderful guest and I feel quite lucky that I was able to find you on your visit to New York. You have been very candid about some of the most difficult issues facing your job and quite amusing on some of the others. Thank you for appearing today. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music”.
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer