SCOTTISH Opera has been left reeling after its new music director walked out on the company after less than two months in the job.
The company said Frenchman Emmanuel Joel-Hornak had “withdrawn” from his post, amid rumours of behind the scenes rows with Scottish Opera’s New Zealand-born general director Alex Reedijk.
But the company provided no explanation of why Mr Joel-Hornak was leaving, when he had handed in his notice and why a swift departure had been agreed.
He had been due to conduct two major full-scale operas in the spring - one of which is due to herald the reopening of the company’s major venue, the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, following a multi-million pound refurbishment.
Scottish Opera has been forced to cancel a concert next weekend that he was due to conduct at St Andrew’s in the Square in Glasgow, while a replacement is being urgently sought for other conducting duties he was due to perform, including conducting Macbeth and Madama Butterfly in the first half of next year.
Mr Joel-Hornak’s departure was announced by the company in a tersely-worded, unattributed, statement, saying he had left “for personal reasons” and that the company was already looking for a new music director.
The Paris-education musician’s surprise walk-out is a major embarrassment for the company, which has only previously had four music directors in its 50-year history. It had only announced the appointment of a new president, Lady Veronica Gibson, on 20 September.
There are said to have already been significant differences of opinion since the new music director took over the post - in particular over the level of artistic control Mr Joel-Hornak would have over the company.
Insiders say his departure had been on the cards for several weeks to the breakdown in relations, even though
Mr Joel-Hornak only started officially on 1 August.
He had been appointed in April of this year, succeeding Italian Francesco Corti, who had been with the company for six years.
At the time he said he was “extremely proud and honoured” to take on the role, saying he had a very strong relationship with the company built up over several years. He had previously led major orchestras around the world in opera and orchestral works, including English National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, L’Opéra de Paris-Bastille and Opera Australia.
Writing in the company’s current programme, he said: “For a number of years I have had a very strong relationship with this world-renowned Company, founded by the great maestro Sir Alexander Gibson.
“I will enjoy developing this relationship as I become a permanent part of Scottish Opera and lead the company through new musical challenges. After a life of worldwide travelling, I look forward to becoming a settled part of the Scottish Opera community, and to experience and share with people all around Scotland the fantastic joys and emotions that the great composers have given to us through the wonderful form of art that is opera.”
The Scotsman’s opera critic, Kenneth Walton, described the shock departure of the new music director as a “startling and serious blow” for the company, which he has criticised for its lack of artistic vision.
Mr Reedijk had reacted angrily to a column he penned last in The Scotsman last weekend, which said the company was now reduced to “surviving on morsels” and delivering “opera on a shoestring.”
Mr Reedijk, in a letter to The Scotsman just four days ago, accused Mr Walton or offering a “wilfully naive assessment” of the company’s performance and offered a staunch defence of its involvement in this year’s Edinburgh festivals.
Mr Walton said: “Rumours have been circulating over the past week or two that Emmanuel Joel-Hornak was at loggerheads with general director Alex Reedijk over how much say he would have in artistic matters. So this latest development comes as no surprise.
“It does bring into question the competency of the current management to create an artistic vision for Scottish Opera that would not only give it credence as a national and international opera company, but in so doing enable it to attract and maintain a high calibre music director.
“This announcement signals a complete failure on either count, and is something the board, and indeed the Scottish Government as its paymaster, needs to consider as a matter of great urgency.”
Scottish Opera said Mr Reedijk, who has been at the helm of the company since 2006, was unavailable to take questions.
Press manager Kenny Young added: “We have nothing to add to what was said in our original statement.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These are operational matters for Scottish Opera.”