22 August 2020

Leading soloists of the Rijeka Opera, principals of the Theatre and honorary members of the opera ensemble, react to untruths and attacks on the Rijeka Opera published in Novi list. The newspaper Novi list refused to publish the rebuttals of Giorgio Surian, Diana Haller, Anamarija Knego and Aljaž Farasin.



Prompted by reading an article about colleague Ivan Kruljac published in Novi list on August 11, 2020, we felt the need to react and publicly defend our theatre and work at the Rijeka Opera. Everything that will be written below is primarily derived from our personal experience. We will not enter those spheres that are unknown to us, because whatever is said publicly must be supported by solid evidence and facts, not speculation. Otherwise, it is slander!


Anamarija Knego and Aljaž Farasin – Principals of the Theatre:

“Just as the employees in Norway had good communication during the quarantine, as Kruljac says, we also had it here in Croatia, especially in Rijeka. We were not left on our own at any point. Our theatre did not stop working, but rather our intendant and directors tirelessly devised ways to continue to maintain the audience and its interest, recording opera arias and duets and presenting them over the internet. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the design of the performance program began in order to start the whole ‘machinery’ of the theatre as soon as possible. This was different from many theatres around the world, which are still closed today, and the extremely large number of musicians who lost their jobs with the onset of the pandemic – we did not! Contrary to Kruljac’s claims, we also invest a lot in singers: we are provided with vocal coaches, some of whom have achieved enviable international careers, and language advisors who help us in our progress. We have the opportunity to collaborate with a number of conductors of notable international careers. All this is so we can be the best possible on stage, and so the audience is satisfied. We have been invested in, and are still being invested in! Furthermore, any chorister who demonstrates interest and a certain degree of quality can have the chance to try themselves on stage as a soloist. It is up to the individual to take such an opportunity seriously and get down to business. That right has not been denied to anyone in this theatre. Our theatre has excellent attendance at all performances, whether of opera, wonderful dramas or ballet fairy tales, and for some more tickets are always requested. Many have won awards!
Showing respect for one’s homeland can be done in many different ways, not just by wearing folk costumes or by hanging a flag on a building. Just one example: our opera ensemble recently recorded a CD featuring our most beautiful opera Nikola Šubić Zrinjski, which was recorded in collaboration with the excellent production company CPO from Germany. The reviews written by professional critics (from Germany as well as from Croatia), speak of the success of our ensemble, but especially of the conductor himself, maestro Ville Matvejeff, as well as the beautiful music composed by Ivan Zajc.
Self-criticism (of individuals) in our country is the exception rather than the rule – everyone knows everything, sometimes even better for others than for themselves, and especially when they go to work abroad! We feel that we are all working very hard in the interest of our theatre, not just our own personal gain (as mentioned by the colleague in the article). We carry out our work extremely professionally and with quality, and the highly-attended performances and great satisfaction of the audience, some of whom also come from abroad, show how much the theatre has progressed. We can say without hesitation that the progress is tremendous!
As for maestro Ville Matvejeff, he is not just “some Finn” to us, as Kruljac so rudely speaks of him, but he is above all a gentleman who, with his great knowledge and cultural behavior, as well as his great love for opera and the whole ensemble, has earned our great trust and respect! Just to mention one important fact: maestro Matvejeff is the artistic director of the Savonlinna Opera Festival, one of the most important opera festivals in the world. He did not receive that “status” because he “only” conducted in the foyer of the opera in Oslo, as Kruljac says. Under the artistic guidance and conducting hand of maestro Matvejeff, the Rijeka ensemble has progressed at all levels. Our repertoire, audience reactions, reviews, and CDs recorded for international publishers probably speak for themselves!
Kruljac resents hiring “foreign” singers and conductors. We consider it an exceptional honor, an incredible opportunity and an immense pleasure to have the opportunity to work in our city and our theatre with various great conductors and great soloists who come from abroad. We are proud because all this is happening in Rijeka!
Contrary to the claims of colleague Kruljac, it is untrue that anyone in the theatre treats us as third-class singers. Everything that is done is done together and for the benefit of the project that is being prepared, making sure that everything is arranged for us. There is a lot of discussion about how to approach an individual character, investing in the singing, musical and acting excellence of the performance. We are given the freedom to present characters by drawing from our own personalities (yet also without exaggeration so the meaning of the opera character isn’t lost) …
There is no trace of dictatorship in the Rijeka Opera! If a problem is encountered, it can always be discussed freely and a solution is always found. The directors and intendant are extremely proud when someone from our ensemble has an engagement outside the borders of Croatia, with the good news and even critiques proudly published on the CNT Zajc website. We are proud that many excellent singers, musicians, directors, costume designers and many others who come from abroad want to share and enjoy sharing their art with us right in our Rijeka Theatre!”


National Principal Giorgio Surian, with 40 years of experience performing on the most important opera stages in the world:

“At the very beginning, I would like to look at the function and task of the theatre intendant. The intendant is a person who looks at the well-being of the theatre, and who must especially think of the audience, lovers of opera, drama, or ballet who come to the theatre out of a desire to find positive emotions and experiences in it. Starting from this, the intendant must also think of the employees of the theatre, the individuals who must provide a certain quality and level for the benefit of the progress of the theatre. I always start from myself; as soon as my performance isn’t at the same level and quality that I and my audience are accustomed to, then I will retire. This is the case everywhere in the world, in all important theatres – while you are needed and provide quality, they are looking for you and calling you. When the qualities they are used to are gone, they relentlessly reject you. In fact, the intendants and directors of operas are very selective in these matters, and there is no one to insult or object to for that. It’s that kind of work.
In my career, I have sung in all the world’s greatest theatres and have thus met with their intendants. I can say and stand behind the fact that the intendant of the Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc does not lag behind them in the least, as he considers the well-being of the theatre in all segments. It is not noticed enough that the theatre has started to be rebuilt, that things have started to improve, and that someone had to have started it all up and put it on its feet.
From another angle, opera has never been as strong as it is now. A lot of love and heart has been invested in the progress of the Opera, Drama, and Ballet companies, which in my opinion work great. For the first time in so many years, the summer stage in Opatija and the Pula Arena came to life with opera performances, which had to be someone’s idea and merit. To conclude, a real intendant is a person who gathers people who will advise him, which is one of the characteristics of our Rijeka intendant. Not because he doesn’t know something himself or can’t make a decision, but because he wants to do his job even better.
I would also like to comment on the part of the article that refers to the guest appearances of international artists at the Rijeka Opera House. When I began working in Rijeka, 40 years ago, we always brought in outside guests. As in Milan’s La Scala, which has its own ensemble for small parts, but which always hires guest artists for large roles to keep the quality up to standard. This also applies to the Vienna Opera, the Paris Opera, and all the other big opera houses where I worked. On the other hand, the opera now mentioned in the newspaper (Oslo) is not one of the world’s most important opera houses. Whether it is in second or third place, I wouldn’t know, since I have never set foot in it. Be as it may, that opera cannot be compared to the world’s greatest houses, just as, of course, the one in Rijeka cannot. Nevertheless, the Rijeka Opera has given performances that have gone abroad, which were a great success. It was even recognized as a house that had one of the best performances in the world last year, our Tosca.
Still, it often happens that it turns out that the neighbor’s grass is greener than ours. Croatia is a country that does not have any great material wealth, which greatly reflects on culture. Theatres have to manage on their own and fight for resources and props that could ensure excellent quality, which in this case the Rijeka theatre manages to provide to the audience. The Rijeka Theatre can compete with any theatre in Croatia, but even outside Croatia. The same goes for our ensemble, which is one of the better ensembles. We have great singers and great performers. Therefore, we have nothing to be ashamed of or hide from.
From another side, we are like people of heart, and we have always been there for each other in difficult times. All that I read in the article about Ivan Kruljac can be characterized as anti-advertisement for our theatre, which I think it doesn’t deserve. Currently, the issues of progress and success of the Rijeka theatre are directed only upwards, as they have been for the last five years. Everything is at a very high level, and very well thought and carried out. I believe that with such a quality ensemble and leadership, that quality will continue.”


Diana Haller – soloist of the Staatsoper Stuttgart and honorary member of the CNT Ivan pl. Zajc Opera:

“I generally don’t comment on the statements of colleagues, however, in this case, prompted by inaccuracies, as a professional opera singer I consider it necessary to react.
Colleague Kruljac is a member of the choir in the Norwegian Opera Oslo. He lives there and works indefinitely, as already mentioned in the text. His claims show, unfortunately, inexperience in working with opera houses around the world. Thus his claim that a director cannot be an intendant is incorrect. Around the world, in many opera houses, intendants are directors by profession. Let’s mention just a few important ones:
Zürich Opera – Andreas Homoki, director
Staatsoper Hamburg – Georges Delnon, director
Komische Oper Berlin – Barrie Kosky, director
Staatsoper Stuttgart – Jossi Wieler (intendant 2011-2018), director

Furthermore, the claim that the best productions are in large opera houses is incorrect. In addition to the Metropolitan, which has currently canceled contracts for all permanent employees due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Covent Garden and Scala, there are many other excellent opera houses, not to mention festivals like the Salzburger Festspiele or the Bayreuth Festspiele.
As for the work in the summer months, each theatre has its own program of plays, so some work in the summer, contrary to the claims of colleague Kruljac. In Stuttgart, where I am permanently engaged, performances run until the end of July. The Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, for example, also has a summer festival in June and July, the Opernfestspiele.
I have been collaborating with the entire Rijeka Opera team for many years, and my experience with this opera house is extraordinary. It is for this reason that I gladly return to sing on the boards of a beautiful edifice in my hometown. From personal experience, and as an honorary member of the Rijeka ensemble, I can witness the excellent human and professional cooperation within the production team.
I also cannot agree with my colleague Kruljac on his opinion about Marin Blažević, who is a true theatre artist. Marin Blažević understands working with singers and fully understands how he can get the best out of all team members. His directing is comprehensive, he nurtures tradition and human virtues, excellence in technical performance as well as stage performance with the inevitable critique of modern society. A singer with such a director is not left to his own devices, but rather creates a role through the director’s thoughts, yet without dictatorial direction. As intendant, he carefully plans seasons with new works that the Rijeka audience has not yet had the opportunity to experience. In the end, I can say that I am proud to be an honorary member of the Rijeka Opera.”


In the end, just the results of the whole corpus of the CNT in the last five years say a lot. Any person of mature thinking and perceiving the real facts can conclude that this is by no means a dictatorship by an individual, but a joint synergy of all employees. Every person is a part of the theatre and this success story, which will continue to climb regardless of the obstacles that will face us! The CNT Ivan pl. Zajc is the pride of our city!!!

Giorgio Surian, Diana Haller, Aljaž Farasin i Anamarija Knego