He did it again. Daniel Barenboim prevailed. As always during his almost 30-year tenure as General Music Director of the Berlin State Opera. When he decided in 2019 to remain active on Unter Den Linden until shortly before his 85th birthday, Senator for Culture Klaus Lederer saw this as an offer he could not refuse. Although the discussion about Barenboim’s authoritarian, outmoded leadership style was at its peak at the time, he extended the Maestro’s contract until 2027.
And now the left-wing politician has decided on a Barenboim confidant, as the successor to the director of the State Opera, Matthias Schulz, who is moving to Zurich. Elisabeth Sobotka is to take his place from 2024. Born in Vienna, she was already employed on Unter den Linden from 2002 to 2007, in middle management, as opera director, who is responsible, among other things, for ensuring that the cast of singers works in everyday repertoire.
After her time in Berlin, she was first director in Graz, and since 2015 she has been leading the Bregenz Festival with great success. Through her work on the board of trustees of the Berlin Opera Foundation, however, she remained closely connected to the German capital over the years.
However, this is now proving to be a problem. Because this board of trustees is officially the supervisory body for the three opera houses, to which the Senator for Culture has to present his personnel decisions. As late as Wednesday, Sobotka’s name could be read on the Opera Foundation’s website. The cultural administration asserts that Ms. Sobotka resigned before the selection decision was made – but it is surprising that the doctor of law Klaus Lederer made such a faux pas.
Nothing is said against the technical qualification of the 56-year-old. The sympathetic Austrian, who is extremely pleasant to deal with personally, is a highly qualified person. In Bregenz, she showed a knack for selecting the creative teams for the lake stage spectacles, she presented exciting repertoire rarities in the Festspielhaus, founded an opera studio to promote young singers and tried to ensure low-threshold access to high culture, which yes is also so close to the heart of the Berlin Senator.
Unter den Linden she will be Barenboim’s fifth sparring partner, after the directors Georg Quander, Peter Mussbach, Jürgen Flimm and Matthias Schulz. And she will have to prove that she is not only in the service of the General Music Director there, but that she is also able, with all her loyalty, to prepare the future of the State Opera for the post-Barenboim era. Be it clandestinely, i.e. behind the back of the lifetime maestro, or with an open visor.