Thursday, November 18, 2010

Virginia Opera fires Peter Mark


Peter Mark’s 35-year tenure as artistic director of the Virginia Opera comes to an abrupt end, as the company announces his immediate termination, Teresa Annas reports in The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk):

The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette quotes Alan D. Albert, president-elect of the opera board, as saying the termination follows "violations of obligations arising under Peter Mark’s employment agreement and the Virginia Opera Association’s employment policies," which Albert declined to specify:

Midgette quotes a statement issued by Mark: "This termination is not justified either on moral or legal grounds – or by common sense. It is not in the best interests of Virginia Opera and its audiences. . . . If it is not promptly reversed then my attorneys will take the appropriate legal actions."

Mark was hired to run the Norfolk-based company in 1975, shortly after it was founded. He gave up non-artistic administrative duties after general director and CEO Paul A. "Gus" Stuhlreyer III was hired in 2003.

Mark’s firing follows a battle among opera board members that went public last month in a campaign, led by the company’s founding president, Edythe C. Harrison, to retain him. The board’s executive committee had already voted not to renew Mark's current contract, which was to expire at the end of the 2011-12 season.

In deciding not to renew the contract, the board’s leaders said the conductor had a "history of difficulties in working relations with staff, musicians and board leadership," an assertion that Mark denied.

A guest conductor will be brought in for January-February performances of "The Valkyrie" (a shortened version of Wagner’s "Die Walküre"), which Mark was to have led. Joseph Walsh, the company's associate artistic director, is leading the currently running production of Mozart’s "Così fan tutte" and will conduct Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly" in March and April.

Albert has said the company is considering engaging several conductors rather than hiring a single artistic director to replace Mark.