Whe was still talking to Nora Schmid last autumn would not have thought it possible that the artistic director of the Graz Opera would seriously consider leaving her house. She valued her place of work as a free playground, which – similar to Gerd Brunner’s tenure in the 1980s and 1990s – gave her the opportunity to experiment with content, put rarities on the program and offer young directors a podium.
But now, as Saxony’s Minister of Culture Barbara Klepsch announced yesterday in Dresden, Schmid will succeed Peter Theiler in the management of the Semperoper from summer 2024. This raises the question of whether Schmid will sacrifice the previous freedom of design in Graz to Dresden’s need for representation or whether the content of the magnificent house on the banks of the Elbe will be turned inside out. Schmid, who was born in Bern in 1978, is no stranger to Dresden. She first came to the Semperoper as chief dramaturge in 2011 and a year later became the personal assistant to the then director Ulrike Hessler. After her untimely death in July 2012, Schmid even took over the management of the Saxon State Opera on an interim basis until she was appointed to Graz in 2015.
It stands for innovative fixtures
Schmid cannot do anything for the farce that Saxony’s government had achieved by appointing Serge Dorny as Ulrike Hessler’s successor and resigning before taking office. Nor can her Swiss compatriot Peter Theiler do anything about it, who ended the long phase of insecure management in the summer of 2018 and only had the opportunity for one and a half seasons to show his handwriting as artistic director. In mid-May, the minister and the chief conductor of the Staatskapelle, Christian Thielemann, decided in a rather strange declaration that he was not fit for the future. Both contracts were not extended beyond their expiry in summer 2024. “We see what is good today and still think about the day after tomorrow of the opera,” was the justification for the decision. “And an opera in ten years’ time will be different from the opera of today: It will in some cases have to break new ground between traditional opera and concert performances and contemporary interpretations of musical theater and concert art.” The reason why this path with the current top staff was not feasible, the Minister remained guilty.
Nora Schmid undoubtedly stands for innovative fixtures. Since 2015 she has been moving cautiously from the fringe repertoire of the twentieth century to the present in Graz and has even planned world premieres for the years that remain. She cleverly counter-finances this ambition of aesthetic modernity through performances of musicals and operettas, which also bring the Styrian rural population to the opera house.
So far she has managed the Graz Opera relatively quietly, without spectacular crises and very effectively and successfully – well coordinated with her contacts in politics, by the way. Persistent in the matter, skilled as a tactician, she gave her house nationwide prestige. The fact that the Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv was appointed to Graz during Schmid’s tenure as music director, but of course left the house again in 2019, fueled speculation that Lyniv could be considered as Thielemann’s successor in Dresden. But the Staatskapelle would have to comment on this.