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Photo courtesy of Théâtre du Capitole



By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 15 December 2006 —The sit-com surrounding the nomination of a successor to Gérard Mortier as Director of the Opéra National de Paris was finally resolved at the beginning of December when the Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, announced his decision to appoint Nicolas Joël. French retirement laws are usually quite strict, obliging people to retire no later than the day of their 65th birthday, but the Minister had generously accorded an exception with respect to the current director, allowing him to finish the 2008-09 season. Joël has already been given the power to plan for his first season.

Born in Paris in 1953, Joël has been Director of the Opéra de Toulouse for the last 15 years, building an international reputation for the theater partially based on the connections resulting from his career as stage director in opera houses ranging from San Francisco and New York to London, Paris, Vienna, and of course his home base, Toulouse. Politics in France being what they are, the Théâtre du Capitole (the opera in Toulouse) has never been granted the status of Opéra National, already accorded to such "distinguished" companies as Nancy, Bordeaux, Strasbourg (l’Opéra du Rhin), an honor of which Joël makes light, and justly so when one regards the renown of the orchestra, opera and ballet on a city with just over 425,000 inhabitants.

Not everyone in France is pleased by the nomination, as Joël’s productions are customarily derided by a large portion of the domestic media, for reasons of fashion as far as I can tell. What one sees in Toulouse is almost never shocking (is that a bad thing?), may not please those who would like to see a more intense direction d’acteurs, a concept to which not all singers are amenable. May Joël’s detractors be reassured, as the new director will surely not have much time at his disposal to hire himself as stage director.

For those of us who have found Mortier’s most recent offerings of little interest —using many new directors who are in the forefront of theatrical renovation but whose work tends to ignore the fact that opera is not spoken theater and requires some adaptation of their methods—the advent of Joël means that perhaps emphasis will now shift towards the musical side, though we can be certain that drama will remain significant.

If readers would like to have an idea of what to expect as of September 2009, they might consult an interview granted to Culturekiosque in 2000. I would not be surprised if the opinions expressed at that time remain equally valid today.

Related CK Archive: An Interview with Nicholas Joël

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com

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