Serge Dorny, Belgian steward of the Dresden Opera

  • The Dresden Staastoper announced yesterday that Serge Dorny has been named director general beginning September 1, 2014
  • Currently managing the Opèra de Lyon, the Belgian will head one of the most prestigious and historic European opera houses

Along with Bernard Foccroulle, who manages the Aix-en-Provence festival, Serge Dorny is one of the most important Belgian cultural executives in the post-Mortier era. Early in his career, Dorny worked closely with Mortier in the dramatic arts service at La Monnaie before joining the Flanders festival. Dorny’s programming there was impressive for its imagination and boldness. He brought important conductors such as Valery Gergiev and Ivan Fischer to Belgium. His sparkling reputation led to his being chosen as director general of the London Philharmonic, one of the great orchestras on the English scene, which presents the famous Glyndebourne Festival each summer. Very quickly, the orchestra regained its traditional audience by opening itself up to a new public.

It’s this spirit of openness that attracted Lyon’s mayor, Gérard Collomb, who wanted to update the Opèra’s management. He had two objectives: to develop a reputation for the opera house worthy of the city’s international ambitions and to open the theater to new audiences. Ten years later, the bet has paid off: Lyon belongs to an elite group of opera houses, along with New York’s Met or Milan’s La Scala. As far as audiences, its success is complete: more than 39% are under 35 years old and the Opèra is preparing to open a suburban center to house its workshops and function in coordination with nearby schools. For the second time, the ensemble will tour Japan with its conductor, Kazushi Ono, who formerly held the post at La Monnaie.

Such success has not escaped the notice of several major institutions. Dorny was on the “short list” for the Salzburg Festival’s recruitment of a new director. He was asked to present a plan to the board of directors and his work made a good impression, even though it seemed that the Austrian Pereira had already been chosen for the post. Last year, Dorny challenged Stéphane Lissner up until the last minute as Nicolas Joël’s successor at the Paris Opera.

The Dresden Opera’s offer made sense. The capital of Saxony is still recovering from damage caused by appalling election results and is making significant investments in the city, a true architectural gem. From that perspective, it’s to be expected that the city wants to give the Opera back its former luster, and Dorny’s arrival is part of that overall plan. The Belgian never arrives alone when he comes to a new city. What interests him is the plan. In a recent interview, he told us how, for him, each institution has to write its own future based on its economic, political and cultural past. Dresden, a Catholic city in the midst of a Protestant region, constantly in contact with the Latin world while cultivating a purely Saxon mindset, has a role to play in the Europe of the future. The city needs to find the means to achieve its ambitions. Serge Dorny’s plans will almost
certainly make sure that he will be the talk of the town.


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