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​Bassem Akiki appointed Music Director of Opera Wrocławska

Bassem Akiki, the new Music Director of Opera Wrocławska, explains his strategy to turn it into one of the leading Polish opera companies

Bassem Akiki has been appointed Music Director of Opera Wrocławska, to work alongside General Manager Halina Ołdakowska and Artistic Director Mariusz Kwiecień. Their season opens on 25 September and will start with five gala concerts offering a sample of the repertoire and artists of the rest of the season.

Programmes are still being finalised, but Akiki has a clear strategy. He explains his priorities: ‘Alongside the opera repertoire, we will perform one symphonic concert every month. This is common in other cities, but not so much in Poland. It means that the players aren’t only acting as accompanists and playing opera repertoire. It’s a great way for the orchestra to improve.’

Another priority will be to support young musicians: ‘We’re going to create an orchestra for players who are still studying or have just finished their studies – an orchestral academy. It will help them to get into opera and also support our young singers. At the moment there are many excellent young singers who don’t have the opportunity to be on stage, and this will give both players and singers the chance to develop professionally.’

Some of the company’s traditions and structures are being modernised, he explains, for example, in having a board of three directors: ‘This has never happened in Poland before. Halina Ołdakowska comes from within the business and is moving to the Western way of managing opera. The three of us will work together on each season and in bringing together producers and singers.’ He hasn’t worked with Kwiecień before but says, ‘For our first drafts of repertoire and casting we all worked at home and then came to a meeting to put our ideas on the table. My ideas and those of Mariusz were 90 per cent identical. I immediately felt the chemistry, based on mutual respect.’

Another significant change will be the way the season is structured: ‘At the moment in Poland we play a different opera every night, which isn’t good for the singers, so we will continue with the same repertoire but schedule it in blocks, with two or three titles a month.’

Other new developments will include performing one ballet premiere and one Baroque opera every season, and co-productions with other companies. They are also planning a new chamber music series: ‘This will help the orchestra to learn how to breathe together and to get to know composers who may have influenced the opera repertoire but don’t exist within that repertoire. The chamber music series will also support our educational work with young and disabled people.’ They will continue the popular tradition of the annual outdoor productions, which attract 10,000 people.

For Akiki, the appointment represents a homecoming – his first job was as conductor at Opera Wrocławska while still a student. He made his professional debut with La Traviata in 2006 and remained in the post for seven years. He says: ‘I was raised as a conductor and took my first steps there. It feels like coming back to a family I haven’t seen for years.’

He has ambitious hopes for this family: ‘The orchestra has huge potential and we can be one of the top opera companies in Poland. I want a high international level, which is why repertoire planning isn’t only for the public, but also to help us reach our goals. The musicians have such great energy. They want to work hard and they give 100 per cent on stage. I love them, I hope they love me, and I think we’re going to build something very special.’

Read Bassem Akiki's tribute to Krzysztof Penderecki.