Curtain falls on Opera chief

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Paul Curran, who took over as head of Norway’s National Opera four years ago, is bowing out after months of criticism and controversy over his leadership style and program choices. His superiors claim he was not asked to leave, but they went along with his request to cut short his contract by two years.

Paul Curran will be stepping down as chief of the Norwegian Opera at the end of this year. PHOTO: Den Norske Operaen

“This is not something I’ve recommended to him, but I respect the decision and the reasons he’s given,” Tom Remlov, managing director of The Norwegian Opera & Ballett, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. “We shall be grateful for what he has done for the opera company.”

Curran, originally from Scotland, was hired in August 2007 and, according to Opera officials, turned in his request to be relieved of his contract last December. At that point, he’d already come under criticism, especially from Norwegian composers, for allegedly failing to develop or support new Norwegian works.

Composers Glenn Erik Haugland and Cecilie Ore unleashed harsh criticism of Curran in newspaper Aftenposten a year ago, claiming they didn’t like the way he had greeted their work after assuming his post. When a development workshop called Operatoriet was shut down in Oslo, they claimed that nothing new of substance was in the works and accused Curran of a lack of competence and interest in the composers’ work. Ore went so far as to call Curran “arrogant.” Director/producer Stein Winge also has raised criticism and questions about Curran’s artistic vision, while Ellen Horn, leader of the Opera board and a former government minister for cultural affairs, said she, the board and Curran had been in discussions for months.

Curran has responded that he has great interest in contemporary works but that others had to evaluate his competence. The 46-year-old Opera chief started out as a dancer but then studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney and held a number of prestigious positions with international opera companies before coming to Oslo. In addition to English, he’s fluent in French, German, Russian and Italian.

Now he says that after four years, “the time has come” when he “can and perhaps should” pass on the baton to someone else, “and for me to seek new challenges.” He said in a press release that he took the job in 2007 because it meant a new challenge both personally and career-wise. “My goal was to establish the company in its new home at Bjørvika,” he said, referring to the opening of Oslo’s new Opera House in 2008. It quickly became a national landmark, and he said he was “enormously proud” that he and “clever colleagues” had “raised the company to a new and international level.”

Curran’s resignation was handled by the Opera’s board last Monday and it was agreed that Curran will continue as a director through the end of the year. He will stage a version of La Bohéme at the opera in Santa Fe this summer and then return to Oslo to direct a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute, which is this year’s season opener.

A search for a new Opera chief will start immediately, with applications due September 1. Anne Gjevang of the National Opera will function as acting chief until a replacement is found.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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  • Nick B-V

    I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mr Curran, an astute, competent and passionate director. Good luck to him in his next ventures!

  • Sam

    So a newcomer from abroad is frozen out by a cabal of locals who are stuck in their myopic way and would prefer on of their own local Norwegians to have the job, preferaby one in their own clique, and do things the only way they know and will ever know how.
    I feel sorry for Curran. Maybe someone should have told him how things work here before he took the job. It was always going to be knives in the back, talking behind his back and undermining. Just the way folks are here, especially when you are not on of them.

  • Nicholas

    Curran’s management style and directorial taste aside, Winge, Ore and Haugland are probably embittered provincial artists that expect – like most scandinavians, to be supported by the tax payer. This is the reason why no Scandinavian Opera company has ever managed to achieve serious international status. Apart from the director Stefan Herheim, what does Norwegian Opera have to offer culturally? My advice to the politicians would be – decide if you want a ‘Norwegian Opera’ or have a great, thriving cultural institution, an ‘Opera in Norway’.

    A few years ago Herheim staged Giulio Cesare at the old opera house in Oslo. It was a staging which had a strong political message: what does a provincial country want with a new opera house, when the content no longer fits or can ever hope to fill the glamor coated exterior. Perhaps a revival of this production would be appropriate at this point in time.