Sunday, July 07, 2019

Goings-On at the Paris Opera

Bastille Opera
February, 2019
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

UPDATE, 7/5/2019:  The COC is denying the report, but the Globe & Mail article is paywalled, so I cannot quote it.

About two months ago,  Definitely the Opera reported on the administrative situation at the Paris Opera (Opéra National de Paris). At the time, the following administrators were under consideration to succeed Stéphane Lissner, who must retire from his post as general director owing to retirement age:
  • Peter de Caluwe (current La Monnaie director) 
  • Dominique Meyer (Wien Staatsoper)
  • Olivier Mantei (Opera-Comique in Paris) 
  • Alexander Neef (Canadian Opera Company; artistic advisor at Santa Fe)
Earlier, Christina Scheppelmann had also been under consideration, but she is succeeding Aidan Lang at Seattle Opera, Lang having accepted the general directorship at the Welsh National Opera.

It now appears that Alexander Neef has been tapped for Paris, which will leave the COC without a director in a couple of years. Lissner's contract will be extended until Neef is able to take over.

This leaves Paris still looking for a music director (or chief conductor, whichever title is correct) to take over from Philippe Jordan, when Jordan departs for Vienna in 2020. 

Here's the thing: after hearing him three times in Paris and reading accounts of his work in the Met Ring, I'm pretty sure that Paris can do better. Of the three I heard him conduct, Bérénice was, at the time and in retrospect, the most impressive. It's a new piece, and, I think, a great one, but what it most called for, and I saw it twice, seems to be extreme precision, rather than sweep or overarching shape.

This is Jordan's metier. Take a look at comments from Christian Van Horn and Brandon Jovanovich in my article Touring the World with Les Troyens; that's a conductor who is perhaps too focussed on the measure-by-measure aspects of a work. I found his pacing and much else in Tristan odd; he seemed to miss the overall structure of the work. As for his Troyens....when I heard Donald Runnicles and Sir Andrew Davis conduct the opera, I was convinced that I was hearing the greatest opera ever written. They gave the work real sweep and power and yes, large-scale structure. Jordan's conducting in the opera was clean, fast (too fast for my taste), and...seemed a little perfunctory. It certainly didn't have the emotional impact that Runnicles and Davis gave it. I don't think this had anything to do with the Tcherniakov production, which I liked a lot, and the singers were uniformly outstanding.

A friend who heard Jordan's Götterdämmerung told me he found it efficient; Joshua Kosman saw the HD broadcast of the Met Die Walküre and questioned something - rhythm and harmonic structure? - about Jordan's conducting. That's in line with what I heard in Paris.

So, also of interest in Paris: who will succeed Jordan?

UPDATE: I found @JoshuaKosman's tweet about that Walküre (and the whole thread is here):

FURTHER UPDATE: I meant to quote Zachary Woolfe on Jordan's conducting in the Met Ring, which matches what I heard in Paris:
If only the orchestra had been nearly so characterful. While Philippe Jordan’s conducting had moment-by-moment fleetness, and agile responsiveness to the singers, there was no sense of long-arching accumulations of intensity, little variety of mood or color. The sound was thin, murky and diffuse, like a cloudy broth; the brasses were inelegant even when not flubbing.


LP said...

(DtO here) The COC recently issued a feeble dementi that its GD "has not been offered the Paris job" but that they wouldn't stand in his way should that be the case (?? - meanwhile Neef himself is silent). I expect the Paris GD would have a say on who's to be the next MD, and if it's indeed Neef the future GD, I'd look at the wider net around him and people he's worked with or knows personally. (Not the current COC MD Johannes Debus, I don't think - he's still relatively unknown except in Frankfurt and the odd European summer festival and has slim to no conducting history in France.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hi, DtO! I saw an article about the denial last night and am just about to post an update & link.

Yes, not likely to be Debus. I am not in a position to speculate about this appointment, either. I have no idea how important it is that the new MD be French or Francophone, or who is available/interested/acceptable.

LP said...

I went to the closest library branch and leafed through the last 6 G&Ms in search of this article, and THEY STILL HAVEN'T PRINTED IT and maybe won't at all. Rude, the Globe, rude. Only digital subscribers can read it. But I'm not taking the COC denial too seriously. If this was absolutely incorrect, Neef would have been first to contact the media. I think everybody's waiting for the Ministry of Culture/Macron, or they're negotiating the small print of every contract and can't announce anything yet.

I'd be shocked if somebody else gets appointed (and colossally mad at le Figaro), but that's still a possibility.