Villaume to resign at end of festival

Emmanuel Villaume

Janna Dotschkal

Emmanuel Villaume, who has served 10 years as Christel DeHaan Music Director for Opera and Orchestra for the Spoleto Festival USA, announced Monday that he will resign from the post at the close of this year's festival.

Villaume revealed his decision at the annual board meeting, bringing the same passion to the moment as he has in stressing the transformational power of music during his tenure.

"When I came here I was full of energy and ideas ... and fear," Villaume

said. "Charleston and the festival helped me build my confidence. I have been adopted by this place and I feel a part of this family. Though I must step down, this will not change."

In early May, Villaume told The Post and Courier that he did not audition most of the orchestra members this year because of the difficulty of traveling to the United States. Currently, Villaume serves as artistic director and chief conductor of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and as chief conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in Slovenia.

Ultimately, the demands upon him in Europe were too great, he said. "I love the festival. It has been one of the most important missions of my career," Villaume said after the meeting. "Ten years of artistic direction is a very long time by any standard, and it is better to leave a little too early than a little too late. But I leave on very good terms and, with my colleagues, as very good friends."

Villaume said that at this point in his career it was simply the right thing to do and that artistic differences or disagreements had little to do with it.

"There are always artistic differences in any institution, and it is the way the institution functions, but I can assure you the differences all were resolved for the better. It has been a very emotional thing for me. I made this decision after long consideration of the enormous commitment of time it takes to direct national orchestras. I leave all my colleagues on the best possible terms, and I will help the festival as much as I can in the future."

Extolling Villaume's contributions, Spoleto General Director Nigel Redden reiterated that the principal motivation behind the resignation was Villaume's commitments abroad.

"Certainly that has been an issue," Redden said. "Basically, Emmanuel has said to me and to others that he deeply loves the festival but felt that if he wasn't going to be available 24/7 that he should step down. He has been less available in the recent past."

Redden dismissed the suggestion that a disagreement between himself and Villaume had a bearing on the resignation.

"Unfortunately, I have disagreed with virtually everyone on my staff and everyone in my family at one point or another and assume I will continue to do so," he said. "Emmanuel and I have agreed on lots of things the past 10 years. There is much mutual respect, and I hope he will be back in the future. I expect him to be, and will be disappointed if he didn't come back."

Villaume made his 1990 American debut with the festival's production of "Le nozze di Figaro," directed by Gian Carlo Menotti, in which Renée Fleming first sang the role of the Countess. He has served longer in his current post than anyone in festival annals.

He spoke with fervor of how Spoleto belongs not to individuals or a city but to "a community of ideas," that new ideas are the lifeblood of Spoleto and that board members are their guardians. Villaume also stressed the need for continued re-invention on the part of the festival.

After opening remarks by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley Jr. and board Chairwoman Martha Ingram, followed by 2010 program assessments, treasurer Ed Sellers announced that the May forecast for tickets sales of $2.66 million was $111,000 above the projection in January, and some 20 percent greater than 2009 figures. A net deficit of $158,111 was projected.

Sellers said contributions were up across the board, except for the government category.

The various committee reports were highlighted by the announcement that board members John and Jill Chalsty, chairs of the Dock Street Theatre opening gala, have pledged a $250,000 gift to the festival. Glen Gardner of SCENE, the part of the development committee charged with developing the youth audience, said the festival had seen $26,000 in contributions from young patrons.

"We are working with Facebook, e-mail and Twitter to build the younger audience, and we are reaching people we probably would not have reached in the past," he said.