Warner and Hrusa quit Royal Danish Opera

Martin Cullingford24th Jan 2012
Copenhagen Opera House: Warner's new home no longer (photo: Lars Schmidt)Copenhagen Opera House: Warner's new home no longer (photo: Lars Schmidt)

A little over six months after arriving in Copenhagen, Keith Warner has been released from his contract as artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera. His biggest gesture – the appointment of feted young conductor Jakub Hrusa as the company’s music director – will now not come to fruition. Warner announced his departure last night with warm words for the company.

Despite rumours of friction between Warner and some members of the opera’s ensemble and management, it seems likely his decision was prompted by the drastic reduction in the company’s funding announced less than six weeks ago.  ‘A combination of factors, made acute by the recent devastating budget cuts, has led me to feel that in the present circumstances I am unable to realise my great dreams for the company’, reads Warner’s quote on the official press release.

Cuts of around 100 million kroner (around £11.2 million) were levied on the Royal Theatre’s budget at the very end of 2011. Jesper Nordin, a staff conductor for both the Royal Danish Opera and Ballet companies, speculated on his blog at the time that the cuts would lead to a reduction in the number of productions per season to ‘8-9’ and around 100 job cuts, including a possible reduction in the chorus ‘from 56 to 40 members’.

Warner scored a coup in the autumn with his appointment of Hrusa as Music Director from the 2013 season. Gramophone’s June issue listed Hrusa as one of 10 young conductors ‘on the verge of greatness’, but the Czech maestro ‘no longer wishes to assume the position’ according to the press release. It’s rumoured that the orchestra he would have been leading – the 120-strong Royal Danish Orchestra, which has a good claim to be the oldest in the world and is maintained by the Royal Theatre – will remain untouched by the cuts.

‘We part good friends’, Warner’s quote went on. ‘The talent of the performing company is beyond compare and the dedication of the entire staff is without reproach.’

The future looks financially unsteady for Copenhagen’s new auditoria, which remain the architectural envy of mainland Europe’s creative community. Danish Radio’s 2009 concert hall has lost significant funds for its parent company, a predicament which is said to have contributed to the recent disappearance of the broadcaster’s purely classical station from the FM airwaves (to DAB). The Opera House was a philanthropic gift to Denmark in 2004, but remains expensive to heat and light for the Royal Danish Theatre which is also charged with the maintenance of two other auditoria including the new Playhouse, opened in 2008.

Andrew Mellor

Update: Danish paper Politiken has now printed the speech Keith Warner made to Royal Danish Opera staff on Monday night, in which he outlines fully and frankly his reasons for quitting the company. Read the transcript here.

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