Lazaridis ousted from helm of National Opera by board

Stefanos Lazaridis, welcoming members of the press to his Plaka home last week, seemed unusually composed for a man whose professional future hangs in the balance. The artistic director of the Greek National Opera, now waiting for a board proposal for his ouster to be considered by Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, appeared calm in face of what has gone on between him and the board over the past few days. There was no trace of hostility and his own account of what occurred at the GNO certainly left the impression that his comments could have been barbed if he had so chosen. Lazaridis maintains he was informed that he was going to be sacked just before the board met on June 7. According to the administration, the meeting was called to discuss the possibility of hiring a new administrative and financial director to deal with a number of problems facing the GNO. Lazaridis insists that it was then that it all ended. The chairman of the board, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos (of whom Lazaridis spoke in the kindest terms, saying that it was thanks to him that the organization had survived financially), had requested a press release announcing Lazaridis’s ouster. The artistic director refused and the weekend was used by the Ministry of Culture to try and bridge the gap between the two parties. On the one hand, the board wanted to see the financial and administrative management of the GNO assigned to two new faces, while Lazaridis, agreeing to this in principal, wanted to have a say in who these persons would be. However, Lazaridis is quick to clarify that his desire to have some control over the administration and finance departments is not about a thirst for power. «There are important reasons,» explained Lazaridis. «When we are having a dress rehearsal and have to run well into the night and the unions start raising the issue of overtime (which we are not allowed to pay), no financial director will come down to central Athens in the middle of the night to try and convince them to keep working. Someone needs to take the responsibility, someone needs to have the final say.» Regardless of the unpleasant outcome of the affair, Lazaridis does not feel disappointed or bitter. «Yes, I know that what happened is not right, but I’m pleased. The GNO is an institution with a lot of potential, of talent, with people who are thirsty to make things happen,» he said. His generosity toward the staff of the GNO is surprising, especially as the conflict between the staff and administration has been well publicized. When Lazaridis was first appointed artistic director of the GNO, he was viewed with no small amount of suspicion. «At the beginning, there was a prevailing air of rejection,» he said. «But over the past few months, a relationship of trust began being built and the chasm was being bridged.» Meanwhile, reacting to Lazaridis’s sacking, a group of respected artists, among them Hellenic Festival Director Giorgos Loukos, Benaki Museum Director Angelos Delivorias, stage director and actor Lefteris Vogiatzis, and choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, forwarded a written request to Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis late last week calling on him to reject the board’s decision. Unanswered questions GNO reform was Stefanos Lazaridis’s and the board’s objective from the outset. Eighteen months later, many questions remain unanswered: * How is it possible to reform the GNO with 650 staff members as compared to the famed Lyon Opera’s 330 individuals and double output? * How can the GNO possibly turn a new page when its meager funds are always late, making pre-planning impossible? * Why is Lazaridis being accused of being «overly hasty» and «unaware of Greek reality» when drastic reform was the object of his assignment in the first place? * Why hasn’t a manager been hired to date, one who could take responsibility for handling management and financial affairs?

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