Dominique Meyer: The public knows very well how to recognize a good singer. Sometimes they have a particular taste in style & the approach of certain artists, which is different from the taste of the public of other theater, but we know this very well.

The son of a diplomat, Dominique Meyer was born in Alsace, France, in 1955 and spent his childhood in France and Germany. In September 2010 he became Director of the Vienna State Opera. From 1991 to 1993 he worked as an advisor in the cabinets of Prime Minister Edith Cresson and Pierre Bérégovoy with responsibility for the areas of cultural affairs and communications, youth affairs, education and sports. He subsequently held the position of general director of the Lausanne Opera from 1994 to 1999. From 1999 until the end of the 2009/2010 season he was general and artistic director of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. In the field of dance Dominique Meyer was from 1991 to 2007 president of the Ballet Angelin Preljocaj and was appointed honorary president in 2007. From 1995 to 1999 he was a member of the board of the Maurice Béjart Ballet in Lausanne as well as of the Prix de Lausanne dance competition. From 2006 to 2010 he was cashier on the board of the Foundation Nureyev. In the field of music he was president of the French Youth Orchestra from 2001 to 2010, since 2010 he has been the orchestra’s honorary president. From 1995 to 1999 he was a member of the board of directors of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. As treasurer of the ProQuartet he organized chamber music concerts and string quartet performances. He was artistic consultant to Riccardo Muti during the founding of the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in Piacenza. He is currently on the board of directors of the European Music Theatre Academy (EMA) of the University of Vienna as well as of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CNSMDP). Since 1 March 2020, Dominique Meyer has been Sovrintendente and Artistic Director of Milan’s La Scala (Teatro alla Scala).

Sovrintendente Meyer, first of all, I want to thank on behalf of the entire OPERA Charm Magazine for your kindness!  Since we think that the charm of the opera comes also from those behind the stage, our conversations with the General Managers of the most important theaters in Italy are crucial and very interesting both for the young artists and for the public. 

I’ve always been passionate about searching for new voices. It all started here, in Italy, when I was asked to be part of the jury of the “Toti Dal Monte” International Singing Competition in 1994. At the time I was living in Switzerland, in Lausanne, where I was a head of the opera house with a chamber orchestra, on a limited budget, 1000 seats theater. Fifty kilometers away from Lausanne is Geneva, where there is a big opera house, the Grand Théâtre de Genève (big hall, Orchestra De La Suisse Romande, big budget); so I thought that it would be an intelligent move to create a program without trying to compete with the Grand Théâtre, to propose a specific programme that could be complement to the one in Genève. I met an agent in Paris, and he offered to make proposals and four days later, he sent me a list of names and repertoires. He knew that we had a limited budget, so he proposed some singers already in career, but who would require a smaller cachet. I was under the impression that the situation was one of mediocrity. I thought “I want to do the opposite”, so I started to do small trips to Italy to search for new voices. An audition in the morning, a performance in the evening and, in this way, I was listening to about 100 singers in 3-4 days. I did this few times and this is how I met an entire generation of Italian singers. I did the same thing in France, but I was more interested in Italy, because I had a repertoire that was predominantly Italian – Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Baroque music – all operas where I could have inserted some young singers. Since the audience is not snobby, I was thinking, they don’t expect to have big stars in the casts. I heard some of the best singers of the new generation. The important thing is for the casts to be looked upon differently in ten years time. As it happens here, in La Scala, when you look at the playbills of the old performances on the walls, you can see that in different moments the theater was very carefully inserting young singers in its soloists’ ensemble. For example, the Macbeth conducted by Riccardo Muti, where the two tenors were the very young Roberto Alagna and Fabio Sartori; someone was doing his job very well at that time. And he was a friend of mine that meanwhile passed away. He was one of the first victims of COVID (Luca Targetti) I’ve always pursued this idea of looking for new talents. In Vienna, I had the fortune of having an in-house soloist ensemble, therefore I was able to offer short contracts to young singers, for 1-2 years, in order to help them get on the right path. It’s easier when there is a stable singing company. For example, I found Aida Garifullina in a contest and her first role was Giannetta [Elisir d’amore]. Then, she performed Musetta [La bohème] and other more important roles. Step by step. Also, Valentina Nafornița, who you have already interviewed, walked quite the same path: at the beginning, she performed the smallest role in the repertoire, Eine Modistin in Der Rosenkavalier. Then, she performed Papagena in The Magic Flute, Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro… This is the interesting thing: helping the singers in finding the right rhythm between an excessively slow one, which can be frustrating, and an excessively fast one, which can be dangerous. I was happy when their careers developed and I was sad when they have difficulties. I’ve always helped singers to find the right agent…   

Speaking of the young singers and about the fact that you are often part of the Jury of important competitions, what are you searching for when listening to these singers?

The vocal technique only doesn’t seem to be enough nowadays.  When I am about to listen to an audition or a contest, I am always expecting for the best. There is a magical moment, when the singer is taking the stage, because every hope is open. Then reality hits (laughs). I search in primis for a special timbre. If one doesn’t like the timbre, it is impossible to work with that voice. It is obviously also a matter of taste and a matter of fitting between the voice and the acoustics of the hall. I always try to understand the strengths and the weaknesses of each and every singer. Of course, we don’t like singers that have issues with the pronunciation, the style, the intonation, the rhythm, the vision… If we’re talking about a coloratura mezzosoprano or soprano, we pay a lot of attention on the way they solve the agility passages, both upwards and downwards, and so on. We don’t need singers that are able to do everything. It’s enough if one singer is well prepared in one type of repertoire. The geniuses able to sing in every language, every repertoire, don’t exist, so… What we look for is an exceptional singer in a specific repertoire. Their behavior is also very important… their way of walking, the way they present themselves. An audition gives lots of information, but not all of it. It says a lot, but not everything, so the details that are noticed in time are the discipline, the capacity of dealing with a certain working rhythm…

Read the entire interview here, in the 1th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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