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(E) Austalian-Croatian Woman to Lead Hamburg Opera
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  09/9/2003 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) Austalian-Croatian Woman to Lead Hamburg Opera

 

Simone Young

 

The following article from the Septemebr 9, 2003 New York Times concerns
Simone Young of Australia whose mother is Croatian (as noted in the article).
As further noted in the article, Young "will be the firstwoman to hold a leading
position in a major European opera house."

John Kraljic


September 9, 2003
Jumping Continents in the Name of Opera
By JANE PERLEZ


SYDNEY, Australia - There seems no end to the cheerful irreverence of
Simone Young, the Australian conductor bound for the Hamburg State
Opera. She had just finished "Otello" here in her hometown's famous
scalloped opera house on the harbor, and at an after-performance supper
she ordered a sizable bowl of mashed potatoes. Oysters followed. A
splash of red wine accompanied the above. Her conversation was spunky,
too. "The brass really let rip tonight; I'm very proud of them," she
said at a restaurant table high above the opera house.

After a sudden - and sensational - announcement by Opera Australia last
year that the company would not renew Ms. Young's contract, she accepted
the top positions at Hamburg, a trifecta of sorts: music director and
general manager of the opera, and director of the Hamburg Philharmonic
State Orchestra. The Australian opera board, which lured Ms. Young back
from Europe in 2001 as a local heroine, found that her quest for
ambitious productions cost money beyond its pocketbook.

Critics delighted in pointing out that Ms. Young was not the first
expatriate Australian to find the cultural veneer in the nation's
boardrooms thinner than the passion for a sun-filled, sports-crazed way
of life. Now Ms. Young, 43, will be returning to a milieu that measures
its musical tradition in centuries and finances its opera at an annual
$50 million, not just $10 million.

She will be the first woman to hold a leading position in a major
European opera house, something that Ms. Young is aware of but does not
overplay. She has big plans for Hamburg, where she has negotiated a
contract starting in August 2005 that puts her in charge of the purse
strings. She has been promised an increase in the orchestra's size (to
125 places from 116) and has won a small rise in the overall budget. She
will report directly to the city's culture minister, Dana Horakova, with
no general manager and no board in between. "Should they renege on the
increase in money, I have an early release clause," she said. "I don't
think they would want to lose me early over financial dramas."

She will be able to exercise her knowledge of the German repertory from
the Romantic to well into the 20th century. Surprisingly, she said, the
Ring Cycle is not in the current repertory at Hamburg, and she intends
to correct that. The 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth comes the year
after she arrives - "the only serious anniversary I'll be around for" -
and it will be important to have all seven major Mozart operas ready,
she said. The audience at Hamburg has a taste for new music, and Ms.
Young said that, all accounts in Germany to the contrary, she would
ensure that modern works continue.

Case in point: last year she staged a contemporary opera, "Lindy," about
an Australian murder case involving a mother who claimed a wild dog took
and killed her baby while they were camping in the outback. This month a
new, flashily designed production of Berg's "Lulu" opens at the Sydney
Opera House. Ms. Young conducted the opera in Melbourne to rave reviews
in the spring.

In a sense Ms. Young is returning to her musical roots. She left
Australia in the mid-1980's after a childhood in the Sydney beachside
suburb of Manly, schooling at a Roman Catholic girls' college and a
musical education at the Sydney Conservatorium. Her father was Irish and
her mother Croatian.

Her conservatorium colleagues knew her as a gifted répétiteur with a
facility for languages who could have stayed forever in an unglamorous
behind-the-scenes role in out-of-the-way Sydney. But Ms. Young hankered
for more, and with her husband, Greg Condon, a language teacher, she
left almost penniless for Europe. Her first break came as assistant to
James Conlon at the Cologne Opera.

In 1992 Daniel Barenboim chose her as his assistant at the Berlin Opera.
"I am completely in awe of him," she said. She remembers a lunch break
soon after she began work with him; she was seated at a table with
"Danny" and several of his friends. "I kept thinking - this girl from
Manly - how did I end up here? I didn't dare open my mouth."

Her position alongside Mr. Barenboim opened the doors, in 1993, to the
famously male enclave of the Vienna State Opera, for which she conducted
26 different operas. In 1997, when she was seven months pregnant with
her second child, Lucie, "I conducted `Lohengrin' on the very day that
the Vienna Philharmonic was going to take the vote on admitting women or
not," she said. "I like to think I had a little bit to do with it."

She made her debut with the Hamburg Opera in 1996, with one critic
applauding her as a "sensation," and another noting her "calm
deliberation and utterly clear beat."

In Australia she emerged as a vibrant personality and a compulsive
worker, able to balance her career and the lives of her two daughters -
the elder, Yvan, is 16 - and her husband, who spend most of their time
at the family home in Sussex, England. Her earthiness appealed to
Australian audiences - she dressed for "Otello" in a black DKNY frock
coat and for "Lulu" in a dazzling red gown. She always wears stilettos
at the podium. For the most part the musicians appreciated her intense
rehearsal schedule and willingness to take risks.

In "Lulu" she encouraged a little-known Australian soprano, Emma
Matthews, 31, to take the title role of the alluring actress who
destroys three husbands in two acts and who must project an
extraordinary sexual energy. Ms. Matthews had never seen the opera - it
had not been staged in Australia for 11 years - and was reluctant to
take on a serious drama. For Ms. Young it was a first, too, although she
had seen the opera in Europe many times. She immersed herself in Berg's
long, atonal score for two years and then told Ms. Matthews, "I will
look after you." She did. The opera opened to fine reviews.

Ms. Young refused to perform Wagner at the Sydney Opera House, she said,
because the orchestra pit was so confined she felt the audience would
never hear the music fully. While waiting for an expansion of the pit,
scheduled along with a general makeover of the interior, Ms. Young
decided to stage Wagner's comedy "Die Meistersinger" at the capacious
Capitol Theater in Sydney.

When the renovated opera house pit is finished, Ms. Young plans to
return as an occasional guest conductor, she said. Despite the public
acrimony over her forced departure, she keeps an abiding affection for
her hometown. She had the satisfaction of the critics praising the
production of "Meistersinger" and stressing, especially for the benefit
of the opera board, one of the work's pertinent lines: "Look after the
music of your country because in the music lies the future of the
nation."


Op-ed:

Artist Biography:
Simone Young


Background: Born, Australia. Studied at the Sydney Conservatorium. Music Director Opera Australia. Appointed General Manager and Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Music Director of the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg beginning August 2005
OA repertoire: The Little Mermaid, Aida, The Bamboo Flute, The Mikado, Falstaff, Tannhäuser, Don Carlo, Rigoletto, La traviata, Il trovatore, Verdi's Requiem, Simon Boccanegra, Andrea Chénier (2002 Helpmann Award: Best Musical Direction), Tristan und Isolde (2001 Green Room Award: Best Conductor: Opera), La bohčme, Le nozze di Figaro, Katya Kabanova, Don Giovanni, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Un ballo in maschera, Der Rosenkavalier, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lulu, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Other Companies: Has a world-wide reputation as one of the leading conductors of her generation. Conducted a broad range of operatic and symphonic repertoire for major opera companies and orchestras including the Berlin Staatsoper, Cologne Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Maggio Musicale in Florence, ORF Radio Orchestra Vienna, NDR Hannover, NHK Symphony Orchestra Japan, Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Chief Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra 1999-2002. Engagements with overseas orchestras and companies into 2007
The Conductors' Program and Simone Young are proudly sponsored by Lion Nathan

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