At the Romanian National Opera, the farce continues. Indeed, it’s quickly becoming a tragedy.
Romania’s Minister of Culture Vlad Alexandrescu resigned this morning, citing his failure to solve the ongoing conflict at the opera’s ballet. This follows yesterday’s events, when ballerina Alina Cojocaru (pictured below) and Danish ballet dancer and choreographer Johan Kobborg were told they may only enter the opera building if they are permanently supervised by security.
While the current problems at the opera can be traced back as far as 2013, when the way it is managed and administered was modernised – ever-so-slightly – by then Minister of Culture Daniel Barbu, the recent chaos began when a far-right, ultra-nationalist website (probably tipped off by sympathetic sources within the opera) revealed that the artistic director of the opera’s ballet, Danish dancer Johan Kobborg, was earning more than €7000 per month while Romanian dancers were being paid far less.
Ignoring the fact that directors – particularly talented ones – usually earn far more than the staff, and that in his time at the helm Kobborg had more than succeeded in making the Romanian ballet an internationally-respected institution, the usual suspects began calling for his removal, citing as unacceptable the fact that he (and other foreign dancers at the ballet) were being paid more than locals.
Then, in early in April, the opera’s interim director George Calin (who had held the post on a temporary basis since last year, the previous incumbent having been carted off by the DNA), was replaced by the conductor Tiberiu Soare, appointed director on a permanent basis. Soare’s first act as director (indeed, the very next day) was to sack Kobborg. In fact, what Soare did was claim that Kobborg’s position (artistic director) did not appear in the opera’s official nomenclature of posts. Kobborg was therefore occupying a job which did not, on paper, exist. All well and good perhaps, which is why Kobborg’s salary was being paid by private corporate sponsors, and not the Romanian state which subsidises the opera.
Much (but not all) of the opera’s ballet corp, led by Alina Cojocaru (Romania’s finest ever ballerina and Kobborg’s fiancee) then came out in protest against the Dane’s dismissal. On April 9th Cojocaru refused to take the stage in the premiere of Manon, the current ballet season’s highlight. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Romanian employees of the opera began counter-protesting against the influence of Kobborg, Cojocaru and other assorted ‘foreigners’. When it was later revealed that Kobborg had made the working language of the ballet English, the nationalists began foaming at the mouth. One even protested that speaking English at the opera is ‘unconstitutional’ as Romanian must be the working language in any state institution. At a meeting called by vice-prime minister Vasile Dancu, Cojocaru – who left Romania to train abroad when she was nine, and speaks Romanian with a slight accent – was accused of not knowing the constitution and of speaking ‘unintelligible’ Romanian.
By now the news of Kobborg’s dismissal had spread far and wide (he is widely regarded as a genius and his dismissal was doing little for the reputation of the Romanian ballet). Soare was replaced by Vlad Conta and Kobborg promptly reinstated. However, when Kobborg learnt that one of Conta’s first acts as boss had been to ask Cojocaru to lie about the reason for her absence from Manon, the newly reinstated Dane resigned.
Are you keeping up at the back of the class?
Vlad Alexandrescu then met with Cojocaru and Kobborg privately, and both agreed that the best course of action would be to reappoint George Calin as interim director until the situation could be resolved permanently.
Alas, the nationalist faction at the opera rejected Calin’s appointment. On Tuesday, the head of the opera’s personnel department responded by issuing the interdiction forbidding Kobborg, Cojocaru and even Calin (still technically the interim boss of the institution) from entering the building alone.
A meeting this evening of all parties, chaired by Vasile Dancu at the vice-prime minister’s office, is likely to resolve very little. Performances will continue to be cancelled.
A few conclusions:
1. Nothing will be settled unless Soare and Conta, or Kobborg and Cojocaru, leave. For the sake of art, it is be hoped that Kobborg and Cojocaru will emerge victorious. We have little hope that this will be the case.
2. Vlad Alexandrescu should never have made Tiberiu Soare boss of the opera in the first place. However, that is his only mistake: he has since then handled a delicate situation as best he, or anyone else, can. He should not have been forced to resign. It is no wonder that civil society (led by artist Emil Perjovschi) will tonight gather in Piata Universitatii to support him.
3. Johan Kobborg is one of the world’s best ballet dancers and artistic directors. He is worth whatever salary he asks for.
4. If Alina Cojocaru agrees to dance for your ballet – for relative peanuts – the last thing you want to do is sack her fiancee. You fall over yourself to make sure her every whim and desire is met, ramp up ticket prices and milk her for all she is worth. You certainly do not mock her for speaking less than perfect Romanian and then kick her out of the theatre.
5. Events at the opera, as we have suggested before, are being driven by a nationalist mindset – afraid of change, and of anything perceived as being remotely foreign – that has infected many aspects of Romanian culture. It is a mindset which fails to see the value of shared experience, of cultural exchange and of art for art’s sake. Saddest of all is that a decade or so ago it had begun, slowly, to disappear. It has been reignited by a new nationalism that now threatens years of progress, and not merely in the world of the Romanian arts.
PS Kit Gillet just filed this for the Guardian on the same subject. Good, but fails to develop the nationalist theme enough.