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A MOMENT OF MADNESS

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Following the controversial acceptance (or infliction) by the
English National Opera board of Nicholas Payne's resignation,
Pamela Rosenberg, General Director of the San Francisco Opera,
talks to RODERIC DUNNETT about the impact of the decision,
and about the esteem in which Payne's leadership is held
in Europe and the USA alike

 

Pamela Rosenberg succeeded Motfi Mansouri as General Director of San Francisco Opera in August 2001 -- the first woman in the Company's history to hold that position -- and is widely regarded as one of the oustanding opera house intendants working anywhere in the world today.

Pamela Rosenberg, General Director of the San Francisco Opera. Photo: Terrence McCarthy
Pamela Rosenberg, General Director of the San Francisco Opera. Photo: Terrence McCarthy

Between 1987 and 2000 she was, in turn, Director of Operations for the Deutscher Schauspielhaus, Hamburg, Manager of Artistic Affairs at the Netherlands Opera and co-General Director of the Stuttgart Opera.

Rosenberg confesses herself aghast and dismayed at the latest thoroughly retrograde developments at English National Opera :

'It's stunning that this can happen; frankly it simply doesn't make sense; and it seems all the more absurd because Nicholas Payne (whose recently renewed contract was due to run to 2004-5) has got such an excellent, long and proven track record : he's one of the few people in the opera business who absolutely understands the art form; who has had the courage to be out there in the forefront, yet can still run a company so that it enjoys success.

'ENO has always had the tradition of being "up there" and experimental : you have to remember that back in the days of the "Powerhouse" regime, Peter Jonas's team mounted productions -- whether by David Pountney or others -- that in those days really surprised and shocked people. Both they and Nicholas have succeeded in making opera a relevant arts form that the man in the street really comes to. People aren't intimidated by it in the way they can be at, say, Covent Garden.

'Wherever Nick's been he's made opera for the people; and that includes making it relevant to today. It's thanks to the liveliness of the work that Nicholas has shown, and the thinking, cutting-edge leadership that he provides -- as Jonas did before him -- compared to the deadness of some productions elsewhere, that in many people's eyes in the wider opera world ENO is seen not just as the United Kingdom's second opera company, but as its number one.

Lisa Saffer as Lulu in Richard Jones's classic staging (commissioned for ENO by Nicholas Payne) of Berg's 'Lulu'. Photo: Neil Libbert
Lisa Saffer as Lulu in Richard Jones's classic staging (commissioned for ENO by Nicholas Payne) of Berg's 'Lulu'. Photo: Neil Libbert

'For the board simply to acquiesce in the jeopardisising of all that seems plain misguided and frivolous. It took courage and vision then. To oust their General Manager now for having that same courage, or (as it now seems) for fighting for the very company itself, is not just unreasonable, it's bizarre. It's not Payne who should be resigning : they should be queuing up to take his side.'

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Copyright © 29 July 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

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RODERIC DUNNETT ON THE RESIGNATION OF NICHOLAS PAYNE

ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA

SAN FRANCISCO OPERA

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