Leif Segerstam ends conducting "boycott" at National Opera
Colleague's illness causes rethink on 2001 decision
Leif Segerstam will conduct Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in its première on Friday evening this week, standing in for Kari Tikka. Tikka suffered a mild heart attack after rehearsals on Monday evening, and is now recovering after angioplasty.
Segerstam is himself a very accomplished operatic conductor, and there would be little to comment on in the fact that he deputises in this way when a colleague is taken ill, but for the fact that he has not conducted at the National Opera since the fall of 2001, when Erkki Korhonen took over as General Director. At the time, Segerstam announced he would not lift his baton at the Opera as long as Korhonen held the position.
Segerstam's "boycott" of the National Opera dates back to an acrimonious struggle over who was to replace the former General Director Juhani Raiskinen on his retirement in 2001. Segerstam had wanted to see the post go to a pairing of the Helsinki Festival Artistic Director Risto Nieminen (as General Director) and the then Casting Director of the Opera Heljä Angervo, who would have been responsible for artistic matters.
At the time, Segerstam had himself just been appointed as Chief Conductor of the establishment for a three-year term. However, when the Opera's Administrative Board ignored the protests of staff members and chose Korhonen, Segerstam tore up his contract and insisted he would not set foot in the place again, at least not as an employee.
Segerstam is able to take over for the indisposed Tikka for the first night and for next week's performances, because he happens to be on vacation at the moment and does not have any outstanding conducting engagements.
His return to the fold has been heartily wished for some time. He said on Tuesday that the decision was helped by discussions with a former pupil of his, Mikko Franck, who is also on the conducting staff at the opera and will become Music Director there from August 1, 2006. Apparently Franck, who is regarded as among the most talented of the young crop of international conductors, spoke sense and turned him around.
Erkki Korhonen is delighted that Segerstam will be stepping into the breach and commented that the conductor had in fact expressed interest in the production of Richard Strauss's Salome last fall, but that the engagement did not fit his schedule.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of W.A. Mozart, and the Finnish National Opera is mounting a new production of Die Zauberflöte in Finnish, based on a new Finnish translation of the libretto, and with overtones from the national epic Kalevala.
Some background to the rather tortured events at the Natiuonal Opera in 2001 can be had from the linked articles below.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Muhai Tang the unanimous choice at National Opera (28.5.2002)
Finnish National Opera
Raiskinen returns to National Opera helm (8.12.1999)