Although it was announced last year that Luisi would be leaving to become chief conductor of Zurich Opera from 2012, it was initially expected that he would see out his contract with Dresden until the new chief conductor Christian Thielemann takes over in two years' time.
However, dissatisfaction has been brewing in the orchestra for a while now. Publicly-aired grievances have been related to pay and status rather than Luisi himself. But the conductor has never really settled into the city's musical life since his appointment - a point that rankles locally is that he never moved his family to Dresden. And despite his acknowledged expertise in a narrow area of the repertoire - particularly Strauss, Verdi and Mahler - the general opinion is that, especially outside the opera house, he has not always maintained the high standards for which the Dresden Staatskapelle is renowned, with allegations of insufficient rehearsals and worse. The German press have even seen fit to toss their worst possible disparagement - Kapellmeistertypus - his way on more than one occasion.
Luisi recently withdrew from several January concerts, claiming sickness. Local cynics noted that this followed ecstatically-received guest conducting appearances by Thielemann. Expectations of Luisi's premature departure became rife.
So few were surprised when he handed in his cards on Wednesday, with that old favourite 'artistic differences' cited as the cause. More specifically, Luisi explains (via a press release) that broadcaster ZDF have had too much say in the programming for the Dresdeners' 2010 New Year's Concert, which is to be televised. The direction taken by incoming General Director Ulrike Hessler has, Luisi believes, compromised the orchestra's artistic and aesthetic standards.
Translation? - he's peeved that the preferred choice of conductor for this prestigious broadcast is Christian Thielemann.
This leaves a number of Dresden operas without a conductor, the most pressing of which is a Ring cycle programmed for February and March. Now who on earth knows it well enough to step in at short notice?
*** UPDATE ***
Christian Thielemann told FAZ on Thursday that contractual loyalty to his current employer, the Munich Philharmonic, comes first, but he will 'naturally examine' how he can help out in Dresden.
And the Dresden Staatskapelle has said that it regrets Luisi's announcement, which, the orchestra claim, came as a surprise. They add that they would gladly have played with Fabio Luisi up to the end of his contract in 2012.
Opera Chic reproduces a part of Luisi's resignation letter, which sets forth the New Year broadcast issue mentioned above as the sole reason for his departure.