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Former Vienna State Opera Director Ioan Holender still calling the tunes at 78 on world stages

In this picture taken Thursday, June 26, 2014, Ioan Holender, 79 years-old, listens to a question during an interview with the Associated Press in Bucharest, Romania. The longest-serving director of the Vienna State Opera in its almost 150-year history, Holender still calls the tune on stages around the world. The Romanian-born musician is an adviser to the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo and the artistic director for Bucharest’s George Enescu festival. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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In this picture taken Thursday, June 26, 2014, Ioan Holender, 79 years-old, listens to a question during an interview with the Associated Press in Bucharest, Romania. The longest-serving director of the Vienna State Opera in its almost 150-year history, Holender still calls the tune on stages around the world. The Romanian-born musician is an adviser to the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo and the artistic director for Bucharest’s George Enescu festival. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania - He's worked as a tram driver and a tennis coach but it was opera that catapulted him onto the world stage.

The longest-serving director of the Vienna State Opera in its almost 150-year history, Ioan Holender still calls the tune on stages around the world.

Obstinate, charismatic and passionate about his craft, the Romanian-born musician is an adviser to the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo and the artistic director for Bucharest's George Enescu festival. He also has his own television show in Austria, where he now lives.

He'll be 79 in a few weeks but there's no sign of a final bow anytime soon.

Holender, director of the prestigious Wiener Staatsoper from 1992 to 2010, has been accused of being authoritarian at times, yet he leaves a legacy of challenging artistic traditions and was known as an efficient manager.

His diva tenancies were on full display Sunday night as he judged an international operatic singing competition in Bucharest. He refused to pause for his speech to be translated into English, saying he wanted to speak personally to the audience.

"It's not a pleasant job, because all these years . I had to show (people) their boundaries. This doesn't make you liked," he told The Associated Press. "There is no democracy in artistic productions because they're made for the public. The public decides."

Born in 1935 in the western city of Timisoara, Holender, who is Jewish, lived under both fascism and communism. He was forced to leave Romania years after the 1956 democratic uprising in neighbouring Hungary because he had fallen foul of Romania's communist regime.

He says he left "to survive, not to pursue a career."

He eventually became an Austrian citizen but never forgot his native land.

"In my heart and soul, I feel Romanian," he said.

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