Paris Opera: a pass that looks like a spaghetti western

A bunch of polished individuals, brilliant and the impression, nevertheless, of being between clans of rival breeders in a spaghetti western. At the Ministry of Culture, this Tuesday, Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin chaired the transfer of power between Stéphane Lissner and Alexander Neef at the head of the Paris Opera and the atmosphere was tense with the trigger.

It was a first. Usually, handovers are informal and do not take place at the ministry. But the situation of the lyric house, second national public endowment (95 million euros) after the Louvre, 1,900 employees, soon three rooms and a totally sealed budget (45 million losses in the spring, since then we have lost count because the house closed for renovations), demanded that the public authorities, especially Bachelot, lover of the lyric, «Irrigated here [s]has always been alive “, show that they were taking the matter into their own hands. Hence the rue de Valois raout.

“The whole operating model to rethink”

From the outset, the Minister stressed that she was the ally of all families, at the cost of great acrobatic differences. She congratulated Lissner for his exceptional work: “Under your mandate, the Paris Opera shone as rarely, attracting the best. You can leave with your head held high. ” To accentuate the solemnity of the address, Bachelot even sang a measure of Don Carlos. After these praises, 180 degree bar, first ball. She recalled that the institution is “Artistically and financially drained”, and that she needs a “Strong captain, ready to take the helm to weather the storm”. Reminder: Lissner should have left in June 2021. He finally brought forward his departure date to January and the minister felt that he would do better to leave the Opera in September, given that he has been the director since April. of the San Carlo theater in Naples. We have seen a better captain in these “Emergency situations”.

She then set her gaze on Alexander Neef, the new director, appointed last year by Macron, who had to leave the head of the Toronto Opera in a hurry – where he still has some business to settle by January. . Neef must have had a cold sweat when she said that the Opera had to undergo a profound transformation, that the catastrophic situation of the last few months had an even more distant origin. “The whole operating model must be rethought”, she thundered before tilting her head towards the chairman of the board – of the Lissner team – and, smiling, urging him to support the new kid, as she would have said: “If you kill his animals before he even starts, I’ll close the ranch.” Then she calmed the surges in testosterone by sussing: “Do not doubt my support.”

But there you have it: how to transform everything when the boxes are empty? Good news for the news: Bachelot has undertaken to financially support the recovery of the institution; hallelujah, Riester had never promised that. The minister did not specify the envelope she is ready to drop to save the Paris Opera, but it will be in A3 format. Be careful, however: it appoints a commission, with a tandem appointed for a reflection mission, “A mission of trust”. Georges-François Hirsch, former director of the Paris Opera, and Christophe Tardieu, former deputy director, are ordered to lead “An uncompromising diagnosis” of the situation of the institution and to propose without censorship a maximum of artistic, organizational, status avenues … solely guided by the interest of the influence of the Paris Opera in the world. Render copies mid-November.

“Not a revolution but an evolution”

To show that «[s]there is no small ambition ”, Bachelot then widened the field of the herd by evoking the province: the national operas in the regions, the lyric theaters of national interest and all the others with various statutes which attract, each year, 2 million spectators (as in Puy-du- Crazy). She instructed Caroline Sonrier, director of the Lille Opera, to lead a commission to reflect on the problems of these institutions in times of Covid-19, moving from pooling to audience development or the involvement of local authorities. “My support will be total. Opera, an unequaled fusion of all emotions, can and must remain a living and contemporary art. And not become a dead star. “ Then, after having calmed all the fury in an almost hypnotic way with great surges of confidence in her checkbook, she passed the microphone to Lissner.

The starter for Naples agrees. The problems date back to the 2015 attacks: “The attacks, then the demonstrations against the El-Khomry law, the strikes, the yellow vests, the pension reform, the pandemic …” In five years, the Opera has died away. And, trigger, Lissner (who had initially run for a second term) turned the problem around: “Institutions funded below 50% cannot withstand crises.” This is the case with the Paris Opera, whose maousse subsidy does not even cover the theater in working order (95 million against 120). The implication is that the in-depth reform must come from the State, not from the institution. And, after wishing his successor good luck, the old cowboy hit the mark: “I would like to say that the marvelous thing about the Paris Opera is that when you give it a lot, it gives you back… less than you expected, but it gives you back anyway.” Have a good trip.

Alexander Neef, then, impeccably dressed, elegant as coming out of the tailor (not at all the poncho type), with a pretty baritone stamp, explained in French, reading his handwritten notes, that he was happy to have a financial support, that he would bring together all the diversity of society, on stage and in the public. “I do not want a revolution, but an evolution respectful of the DNA of the institution, that it can be projected in the XXIe century, which is not necessarily that of the star-system or of globalization. We have to find an identity that corresponds to our time ”, he concluded. And the packs applauded, having absolute confidence that some interesting things were going to happen this season.

Guillaume Tion


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