When Vienna’s Opera Tradition Got Too Traditional, They Stepped In

Still, the house worked out an arrangement to broadcast new productions, performed to an empty hall. Viewership was high, about 500,000 for the first show. So, the State Opera continued, in the end reaching millions.

A major change will come in December, when the State Opera opens a new theater nearby, the Französischer Saal, or French Hall, in the Künstlerhaus. Roscic said that the 250-seat space will be for “people who need a path into the world of opera,” including children. Its first season will contain five world premieres. (By comparison, only one newly commissioned work, “Animal Farm” has played on the main stage since Roscic started.)

Roscic’s time hasn’t been frictionless. Although his term was extended, to 2030, his music director Jordan’s was not. Shortly before Roscic’s extension was announced, Jordan gave a blindsiding interview to the Kurier newspaper in which he announced that he would not be renewing his contract. He blamed the tyranny of Regietheater, or director’s theater, which some conservative artists have complained shifts the power of new productions away from the orchestra pit. The State Opera is not broadly seen as avant-garde, but Jordan said that it was on a path that “leads to inevitable failure in the long run.”

In the local press, Jordan’s interview was described as a hostile way to save face after he had been fired. Roscic suggested as much in a statement at the time, in which he said that Jordan “wanted to extend his contract, but for other reasons this was not possible.” (Jordan declined to be interviewed for this article.)

The State Opera won’t replace Jordan when he leaves next year. Instead, Roscic said, he will regularly engage a small group of conductors, like Welser-Möst, Christian Thieleman and Pablo Heras-Casado.

A future focus, as Roscic looks toward his second term, will be the repertoire. If his choices draw more from the past than the present, they are mostly new to the State Opera: a first “Un Ballo in Maschera,” for example, and “The Fiery Angel.” “Norma” hasn’t been onstage in over 40 years; “Iolanta,” not since the time of Mahler.

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