Welsh National Opera's Music Director Quits After Only One Year
Monday, August 23, 2004
Western Mail [Cardiff]
By Karen Price
CARDIFF, 20 August ó Welsh National Opera's music director has sensationally quit his job little more than a year after accepting the high-profile role. The announcement comes just weeks after Tugan Sokhiev, who was just 25 when he joined WNO, pulled out of one of the company's summer productions because of cast sickness at rehearsals.
The Russian musician's colleagues were told he had handed in his notice during a crisis meeting at WNO's Cardiff headquarters last night.
The world-renowned opera company's former music director Carlo Rizzi, whom Sokhiev replaced, has agreed to take over the position for the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons. An announcement will be made about the conductors replacing his scheduled performances in the coming weeks.
Anthony Freud, WNO general director, said the opera company's board had accepted Sokhiev's decision 'with regret'.
He said last night, 'I am very sorry that Tugan has reached the decision to relinquish his position as music director. Tugan is an exceptionally talented conductor who has a major career ahead of him.
'I am very grateful to Carlo for re-organising his busy schedule in order to take up the post of music director for the company for this two-year period.'
It was Freud who plucked the conductor from relative obscurity when he saw him conduct La BohËme with the Icelandic Opera. Bowled over by the maturity and sophistication of the music-making which seemed to belie the youth of the conductor, Freud went on to offer him the top job at WNO.
The news has come at a crucial time for WNO as it prepares to move into its new home at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay in November. The Russian maestro was scheduled to lead WNO in its opening season, a series of operas originating from his homeland.
But the announcement will not come as much of a surprise to people within the industry.
In May, Sokhiev dramatically pulled out of the company's production of La traviata after conducting just two performances. He said at the time that the rehearsal period for his first Verdi production had been 'significantly disrupted by cast illnesses'.
'It goes without saying that La traviata is a great masterpiece and I believe that this outstanding production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser will continue to delight our audiences,' he said. 'I do not feel, in the circumstances, that I can deliver my musical vision of the piece.'
It was a far cry from when Sokhiev moved from Russia to take up the post in January 2003. He was full of confidence, saying that he had what it took to lead the Cardiff-based company despite his young age.
He made his debut as music director when he conducted the opera double bill Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci during WNO's 2003 spring season. That performance was described by critics as 'robust and full-bodied'.
Despite the changes, WNO is pushing ahead with its plans for the autumn season, which opens on September 11 with the new production of Ariadne auf Naxos, alongside Gluck's IphigÈnie en Tauride and Puccini's Turandot.
Opera critics at The Times once labelled Carlo Rizzi as 'one of the leading conductors of his generation'. No stranger to Wales, he has once again been picked to lead Welsh National Opera.
Since 1985, when he won the first Toscanini Competition, he has appeared in an extensive repertoire (from Gluck to Berio) with many orchestras around the world.
But it was in 1992 (until 2001) that he made Wales his home when he took up the baton as musical director of WNO.
There his acclaimed repertoire included Fidelio, Boris Godunov, Peter Grimes, Tristan und Isolde, The Turn of the Screw, Der Rosenkavalier, Katya Kabanov· and Salome.
In the UK, as well as conducting the four independent London Orchestras, he has conducted the BBC Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, HallÈ Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
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