They say Paris is well worth a Mass. But nothing beats family. This has been the reason that has led Gustavo Dudamel to present his resignation to the musical direction of the Paris Opera, one of the most important cultural references in the world. The famous Venezuelan director signed six seasons with the French institution in 2021, but his departure for personal reasons will be at the end of the current 2022-2023. Now he will focus on the remainder of his contract in Los Angeles and then make his big leap to the New York Philharmonic, another of the great international orchestras.
Last February it was revealed that in 2025 he will leave Los Angeles to assume the musical and artistic direction of the New York Philharmonic, the oldest orchestra in the United States. It will be a new step in a meteoric career, as he will then become the first Latin American to take charge of the same cultural treasure that Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler and Arturo Toscanini had in their hands.
The director has lived with a busy international schedule since taking office in August 2021. Now he reflects on the lessons that the world has left him after the pause that the pandemic meant. "We are living in a moment that I believe has changed our lives in unique and complex ways. I definitely have a greater respect for life and how art and music enrich my existence every day and those around us."
"I have no other plan at this time than to be with my loved ones, whom I deeply thank for helping me every day in my determination to grow personally and artistically," said Dudamel, who turned 42 last January. The Venezuelan signed for the Paris Opera with the idea of combining the position with his life in America, where he heads the Angelina Philharmonic with great success since 2009. Alexander Neef, the director of the French house, has not yet named a successor and has asked for time to find someone to take over.
The arrival in Paris of a position on which the musical programming of the Palais Garnier and the Bastille Opera depends was the product of a process originated in 2017. The Venezuelan was then invited to direct La Bohème. After the staging, the German Neef, called him to make the invitation. Dudamel said an almost immediate yes.
Always careful with the details, Dudamel meditated well on the work that would serve as a letter of introduction with the French public. Their inaugural concert was a classic. Carmen, by Georges Bizet, which he performed in October 2021 with the orchestra of the National Theater. The bet on the tragic romantic story of a soldier and a gypsy was a nod to the historical past to which he now took the reins. The French composer's final, and best-known, work debuted at the same institution in March 1875.
"It has been a privilege to share so many wonderful moments with the orchestra, choir and artistic team of the Paris Opera these past two seasons," says Dudamel. His resignation cuts a planned six-year stay. In his first year he directed Turandot, by Giacomo Puccini, and The Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart. In 2022-2023 he returned to Puccini with Tosca and directed Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
He didn't just follow the canon in his two years. Dudamel landed in Paris with the promise of injecting some of the vitality that characterizes him into a century-old institution. That is why he wanted to alternate his taste for the classic with modernity and the curiosity of new sounds, which has been key to his success in the United States. That is why he prepared the assembly of Nixon in China, a groundbreaking work by the American master John Adams with libretto by Alice Goodman and a montage by Valentina Carrasco that counted among its cast with the soprano star Renée Fleming, as Pat Nixon and the tenor John Matthew Myers as the Chinese statesman.
The opera is based on the US president's visit to Mao in 1972 against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It premiered in March and was a milestone, as it was the first time that Adams' music was played inside the Paris Opera. The work was well valued by the Parisian public for its validity. Tensions between Washington and Beijing were reignited during the play's debut with the drama of spy balloons hovering over the U.S. soil. With his farewell, Dudamel underlines the brief transformative role he tried to capture.
"Nixon's recent success in China clearly illustrates why Gustavo Dudamel is an immense musician," said Alexander Neef, who respects his decision and thanked the Venezuelan for his time with him. "His passion and immense talent has left us a lot to the repertoire of our house. He was able to establish a special relationship with the orchestra's musicians, choir artists, singers and artistic teams, relationships marked by mutual respect and the desire to create together the most beautiful performances," added Neef. The Paris Opera will soon announce what will happen to Dudamel's projects that had been announced for 2023-2024.
The celebrated Barquisimeto star has been married to Spanish actress Maria Valverde for six years. Both met in 2016 in Los Angeles, the city where they currently reside. Dudamel has a son, Martín, the product of his previous marriage to Eloísa Maturén, a classical ballet dancer and journalist from Caracas. The child shares time between his parents' homes and has an excellent relationship with Valverde, who also often visits his parents in Madrid's Carabanchel district.