'Culture is identity': How Gustavo Dudamel is shaping the future of the Paris Opera

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'Culture is identity': How Gustavo Dudamel is shaping the future of the Paris Opera
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Katharina Rabillon
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As Music Director of the Paris Opera, the legendary composer Gustavo Dudamel wants to shine a light on upcoming artists and open the doors to a new generation of opera-goers.

As the Music Director of the Paris Opera, the Venezuelan superstar conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, has a vision. 

He wants to support the next generation of artists, open the Opera's doors to a younger audience, and breathe new life into its programming with masterpieces which have yet to be presented there.

“I really believe that music, culture has the power to transform the people,” Gustavo Dudamel told Musica. “Giving access to the young generation, it creates a society with more freedom,” he added.

Shining a light on young talent

Performing with Gustavo Dudamel is a dream for every young artist. And it’s coming true for Marine Chagnon, an artist-in-residence at the Paris Opera Academy. 

It’s a crucial time for young emerging artists who are just embarking on their careers. The French mezzo-soprano has been preparing for weeks for a unique concert, conducted by the charismatic conductor.

Marine Chagnon, Mezzo-Soprano, Artist-in-Residence, Paris Opera AcademyEuronews

"I am already very, very honoured to be able to work with such an artist. He's someone I've seen conduct many times but I've never worked with. So there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of pressure too. When I think of him, I think of fire. I think of something that crackles but is sensual at the same time. And I can't wait to see how he conveys that," Marine explained.

The Music Director of the Paris Opera wants to bring the next generation of artists such as Marine into the spotlight. One way he does this is by inviting them to perform with him on the big stage.

"I'm a young man, still, but not as young as them but the reality is that they are students but they are artists, and when they feel included in the highest level of music making I think it's the best for them to be inspired and to keep working in what they love to do,“ Gustavo Dudamel told Musica. 

Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director, Paris OperaEuronews

"In an institution as this, you know, with a big tradition, legendary place, it's beautiful that it's a big space for these young people who, in the future, they will be the big stars." 

To give the finishing touches to her performance, Marine practices with fellow academy member, Francois López-Ferrer. The conductor has closely followed his mentor Gustavo Dudamel for years, and was part of the Los Angeles Philharmonics Dudamel Fellowship.

"My job here is to prepare them for the way that it's beaten with the hands so that when they get in front of the orchestra with Maestro Dudamel that there's a more fluid communication and connection so that it works from the beginning," Francois López Ferrer revealed.

Francois López Ferrer, conductor, artist-in-residence, Paris Opera AcademyEuronews

"You can learn a tremendous amount from him (Gustavo Dudamel). I mean I have a list of things that he says and how he says it and how he gets the result from the orchestra that he's looking for,” he added.

Dudamel's concerts at the magnificent Palais Garnier are filled with rhythms and colours from the Americas, reflecting Dudamel’s spirit.

They are students but they are artists, and when they feel included in the highest level of music making, I think it's the best for them to be inspired and to keep working in what they love to do
Gustavo Dudamel
Music Director, Paris Opera

“There is a lot of Latin music, of course. It reflects a lot of things of my background and my Latin soul of course, and the joy because I think that it's music that moves you know, in a way that is very special,” Gustavo Dudamel said.

From the pit to the stage: Gustavo Dudamel also wants to shine a light on the Paris Opera Orchestra.

“Gustavo and our orchestra clicked right from the start. You know, it was like love at first sight," revealed concertmaster, Frédéric Laroque. "He decided to show us a little more on stage. He needs to feed off that relationship between us and him as well as the audience just behind.”

Gustavo Dudamel first conducted the orchestra in 2017 for a production of 'La Boheme'.

Enriching the programme

Gustavo Dudamel is breathing new life into the programming of the Paris Opera repertoire. One such piece is the ground-breaking 'Nixon in China' by the visionary American composer John Adams.

"To do John Adams: That's the first time his music is to be played in the Paris Opera in [its] history. I think it's very important. He is already in the place of the greatest composers in history. He's a genius in the way how he creates, the imagination that he has is so powerful," Dudamel said. 

"The opera tells the story of the real visit of Nixon to China in 1972, which was a visit planned to solve issues from both countries,” said stage director, Valentina Carrasco. 

Valentina Carrasco, Stage Director, Paris OperaEuronews

"I started thinking of ping pong because I like the metaphor of a terrain that is divided in two by some kind of curtain, we have a net in between dividing the world in two, people throwing responsibilities to each other like balls, like ping pong balls. And that made me think that was a good image for the world under the Cold War times," Valentina admitted.

Opening the doors to a new audience

One other important mission is the quest for new audiences: Gustavo Dudamel and the Paris Opera want to build bridges and open the doors to the next generation of opera-goers.

“I think in general you always have to try to attract a new audience. There are always many, many people who have never been here before and thinking about how to bring them in is crucial to keeping this theatre at the heart of society," said Alexander Neef, the General Director of the Paris Opera.

Thousands of affordable tickets each season are dedicated to a young audience for special evenings (exclusively reserved for them).

"I remember several of these pre-opening nights, which were really incredible," the young mezzo-soprano revealed. "The energy is different. Young people don’t listen to it in the same way. They are not used to it. So there's also an amazement, a bit of a shock of what opera does to people physically. I love that. 

"I love singing for young audiences,“ said baritone, Thomas Hampson.

“There's no reason why young people shouldn't be fascinated by opera. They don't have to become literary scholars; they don’t have to become practicing musicians. But it is part of our DNA. You cannot take music out of human beings.”

Thomas Hampson, BaritoneEuronews

"These artistic places have to be the place for the people again. Culture is identity," Gustavo Dudamel told Musica.

"It's not only the people that come to you. You go to them. You give to them. You connect. You make them feel that what they listen to it enriches their life and this is something that is a mission," he concluded.

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