The news comes just one day after the Deutsche Oper revealed that its current music director, Renato Palumbo, would step down no later than the summer of 2009, the end of his contract term. Palumbo, who took up his Berlin position only at the beginning of last season, has reportedly received ferocious criticism for his work, especially on a production of Weber's Der Freischütz last spring. According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Palumbo offered to resign at that time, but company superintendent Kirsten Harms persuaded him to stay on. He did, however, withdraw from this fall's revival of Freischütz and next spring's new production of Wagner's Flying Dutchman at the house.
Happily, the Deutsche Oper's next maestro has a press packet bursting with good reviews. Runnicles has earned resounding praise and a high reputation over his 15 years as music director at San Francisco Opera (a job from which he steps down in 2009) and in guest appearances with the likes of the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Chicago Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Bayreuth, Salzburg and Edinburgh International Festivals.
This is the second major appointment Runnicles has secured within a month: also in 2009, he takes over as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his San Francisco post, he is currently principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming.
In a statement released today by the company, Runnicles said, "Last April, from the moment I began working with the Deutsche Oper Berlin on the Ring, I sensed the possibility to make something special here — something glorious in the best tradition of German opera houses. I am eager to build on the solid foundation laid by others before me in this historic house, and to see what we might achieve together." Among his predecessors in the job are Bruno Walter, Ferenc Fricsay, Lorin Maazel, Jes‹s L‹pez Cobos and Christian Thielemann.
The Deutsche Oper made worldwide headlines in 2006 when it first cancelled, then reinstated, a controversial staging of Mozart's Idomeneo over which the company suffered alleged threats of terrorism, outraged accusations of censorship, theft of the offending props, visits from hordes of international journalists, and two relatively uneventful performances.