“The Whole World Watches This Competition”

Photos: Philipp Horak/Anzenberger, M. Bergmann
Chairman of the “Neue Stimmen” jury: Dominique Meyer 

Dominique Meyer has been chairman of the “Neue Stimmen” jury since 2010. In this interview, he speaks about his passion for music and discusses how young performers should make use of the competition to advance their careers.

Dominique Meyer, director of the Vienna State Opera and chairman of the “Neue Stimmen” jury, was born in Alsace, France, and grew up in France and Germany. He studied business administration and later worked as an advisor to the French minister of culture. He helped launch the French-German broadcasting station arte and was involved in preparations for the soccer World Cup in France. He became director of the Lausanne Opera in 1994, then joined the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1999 as its manager and artistic director.

change.story: You seem very focused when you’re participating in the jury. You sometimes close your eyes for minutes at a time…
Naturally I want to concentrate on the music and the voices as much as possible. Yet it’s also important to look, since that’s how you see if a singer has stage presence. But first you have to concentrate on the voice to hear if it’s even, if the intonation is as it should be and if it is rhythmically correct.

There have been articles published describing how you went to the theater, the opera or a concert every day when you were at university. Did you really go every day?
Yes, of course.

Who introduced you to music?
No one.

Something must have piqued your interest in music and opera…
It all started when I happened to hear some music by Bach. It was a recording of Bach sonatas. After that, music was my passion. I listened to and attended everything I could. I then soon discovered my love of opera.

Which was the first?
The first opera I saw was Parsifal. Not necessarily and easy one.

Music has always been very meaningful for you. Did you ever dream of becoming a singer?
No, not at all! And I fully believe that opera-house managers should not dream of being artists as well. It’s healthy to be at a certain remove when you hold such a position.

How are you introducing your son to music?
He was basically born into it. He loves music and comes with me to performances. He even travels with me. A theater is always interesting and a wonderful place for a child.

What should parents not do as they help their children develop an appreciation for music?
Forcing children to do something is the biggest mistake. That’s because everything you do you should do with passion.

Many of the “Neue Stimmen” participants say they already knew at the age of five or six that they wanted to be singers and perform onstage when they grew up. What is the right way to get children involved in music?
By not thinking only of your own prestige. Let’s say a well-known orchestra invites 300 teenagers to the final dress rehearsal of Bruckner’s Ninth at 10 o’clock in the morning. It’s bound to be a disaster. The whole event will end up being all about the orchestra and its purported efforts to reach out to young people.

What is the better solution?
It would be better to involve very young children in special programs – expose them to operas, yes, but make sure everything has been well prepared and is suitable for children. They have to be able to identify with it.

How do you make sure that happens?
By creating a connection between the young audience members and the people onstage. Here in Vienna, for example, we stage a children’s version of The Magic Flute the day after the Vienna Opera Ball. We even give two performances. The Vienna Philharmonic plays and members of the Vienna State Opera ensemble sing – everything is first rate. And there are 3,000 children in the audience. All have been well prepared for this moment, since the instruments and the opera’s story have been explained to them in a child-friendly manner. The result is that the youngsters are completely engaged – it’s simply delightful.

You have been chairman of the “Neue Stimmen” jury since 2010. How should young talents make use of this competition to advance their careers?
They should see it as a huge opportunity. “Neue Stimmen” is extremely important, since if you are successful there, everyone working in the field of opera will immediately know it. It’s not just that the jury is full of recognized professionals. The entire world watches what happens at the competition, since the audience includes many other important decision-makers who are also keeping their eyes open for young talent.

Have you discovered up-and-coming performers in this way?
Of course. I have a number of singers here in Vienna who have won in Gütersloh.

“Neue Stimmen” brings people of many different nationalities together.
Yes, and I think that’s wonderful. The competition is a meeting point for talented individuals from countries all over the world. During the rehearsals you see them together – eating, taking walks, talking. It’s very satisfying, since a competition should also be a way of bringing people together.

The contestants come from so many different nations. Do you notice a difference in their training?
To some extent, yes. But the differences are getting smaller since the world is becoming more international. There are few national schools, just voice teachers who are either good or bad.

Does it affect you when, as a member of the jury, you notice some contestants are extremely nervous?
Yes, of course! Sometimes it helps to make a small joke at the outset in order to defuse the situation a bit.

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