In the wake of Gerard Mortier, pretty much any season put together by Nicolas Joel would likely seem less adventurous, and the financial crisis has turned many opera houses back to the old reliables. What has Joel come up with for the first season completely planned by him? Christian Merlin reported on the announcement of the 2010-2011 season at the Opéra de Paris (L'Opéra de Paris joue les valeurs sûres, March 10) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Nineteen operas will be performed in 2010-2011: seven new productions and twelve revivals (including the evergreen Madama Butterfly as seen by Bob Wilson, and Giorgio Strehler's legendary Marriage of Figaro, both revived since 1973). For the new ones, we particularly look forward to the conclusion of the Ring cycle, as well as the world premiere of Akhmatova, the opera commissioned from Bruno Mantovani, one of our most brilliant composers.The operas not mentioned in the article are Luisa Miller, Kát'a Kabanová (staging by Christoph Marthaler, with Angela Denoke in the title role), Tosca, The Flying Dutchman (the staging by Willy Decker will feature Matti Salminen, Adrianne Pieczonka, Klaus Florian Vogt, and James Morris), L'Italiana in Algeri (with Lawrence Brownlee and Vivica Genaux), The Bartered Bride (production by Gilbert Deflo), and Eugene Onegin.
Not always as conventional in his tastes as one often says of him, Nicolas Joel continues to explore the two periods close to his heart: the 20th century with Zandonai's rare and powerful Francesca da Rimini, with Roberto Alagna, and Hindemith's magnificent Mathis der Maler with Matthias Goerne. One can only rejoice at the arrival of Puccini's Il Trittico in the repertory, under the baton of the music director, Philippe Jordan, who will also conduct The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos [production by Laurent Pelly, with Diana Damrau as Zerbinetta], and the two Wagner operas, reassuring those who were worried about his relative absence the first season.
As for the Baroque, it will be represented by Handel's Giulio Cesare with Natalie Dessay [plus Isabel Leonard as Sesto and Dominique Visse as Nireno], a promise made to Emmanuelle Haïm to invite her back after the incident with Idomeneo, this time with her musicians from Le Concert d'Astrée. As for superstars, we await the return of Renée Fleming to Paris: she will be Desdemona in Otello.
Sadly Joel suffered a stroke just before he took up his duties in Paris, but he reportedly was upbeat after his first year: he has delegated most of the budgetary oversight responsibilities to an assistant director and other duties are shared by teams under his control. Sales have been very strong, 91% of the house overall and 100% for this season's productions of Mireille and La Bohème, although Merlin notes that some critics are complaining that Joel favors traditional productions and casts primarily by relying on big name singers. Joel's response was pragmatic: "There are opera stars, and we should have them sing in Paris just like they sing in New York. On the other hand, I am not mounting La Sonnambula for Natalie Dessay but because it was not normal that a work once championed by Callas and Bernstein was not in the repertoire of the Opéra de Paris."