French baroqueux conductor Emmanuelle Haïm was scheduled to appear in the pit of the Opéra de Paris last month for a run of Mozart's Idomeneo at the Palais Garnier (staging by Luc Bondy). We have admired her recordings with the historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée, like the recent one of Handel's La Resurrezione, but the orchestral musicians -- not the normal crew of HIP specialists used to working with her -- staged a coup that can only remind one of the headstrong, rebellious musicians in Fellini's Prova d'orchestra. Two days before opening night, Haïm was removed from the production and replaced by Philippe Hui, due to concerns expressed in an official document "that the rehearsal time necessary to make her artistic approach converge with that of the orchestra was incompatible with the constraints of the Opéra national de Paris's programming schedule." Renaud Machart wrote about it in an article (Emmanuelle Haïm divorce avec l'orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris, January 26) for Le Monde (my translation):
The same day, Emmanuelle Haïm opened the hostilities, declaring to Agence France-Presse that "the attempt to lead the orchestra to a different aesthetic failed. The challenge was certainly one that could be met, but the orchestra did not want to make the experiment work." The orchestra, "called out" by Mme Haïm, broke its customary silence -- a very rare thing -- by the means of the commission elected by the musicians, which declared on January 22: "The musicians were delighted to try a Baroque approach, [but] there was great disappointment in the lack of precision as well of musical ideas in the conducting style." In other words, the orchestra, which wanted only "to guarantee the excellence of the performances," denounced a lack of competence, for this production, of one of the few woman conductors in the world.Machart goes on to note that another HIP conductor, Thomas Hengelbrock, did already lead the orchestra in a period-style performance of Idomeneo, to great success, in the 2006-07 season. Neither Nicolas Joel, the new director of the Opéra de Paris, nor Emmanuelle Haïm commented further.
While it is hard to believe that the conductor "lacks musical ideas," on the other hand it is probable that Haïm, self-taught in conducting like most of her baroqueux colleagues, conducted in a way that was not as well understood as by the Baroque specialists who work regularly with her in Le Concert d'Astrée. Those whom we asked about this insisted on her "profound knowledge of the scores she conducts." According to our information, the conductor was very nervous about the situation in which this Idomeneo was prepared, with only four days of rehearsals. "There were too many problems in the difficult accompanied recitatives and in the transitions between pieces," a member of the Orchestre de l'Opéra confided to us. "It seemed impossible to us that she could handle the coordination between the stage and the orchestra."