That was fast. Gustavo Dudamel announced Thursday morning that he will step down as music director of Paris Opera in July, at the end of his second season — four years before his contract was to expire.
Dudamel had been expected to stay at Paris at least through the 2026-27 season, which also coincides with what will be his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic. The news of that appointment was announced in February.
In the meantime, though, the sudden departure from Paris will not likely have an effect on Dudamel’s position as music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for his remaining three seasons here, and he is in town presently to conduct the orchestra in this season’s last two weeks of concerts. He also remains music director of Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela, which will bring him to the Edinburgh International Festival this summer.
“It is with a heavy heart, and after long consideration, that I announce my resignation as music director of the Paris Opera,” Dudamel writes in his official statement, “in order to spend more time with my family.”
He goes on to say that he has “no plans other than to be with my loved ones, to whom I am deeply grateful for helping me to continue to be strong in my resolve to grow and remain challenged, both personally and artistically, each and every day.”
Beyond that, neither Dudamel nor Paris Opera are yet providing additional explanation for his departure other than to say that a revised schedule for the 2023-24 season will be announced shortly. This leaves in question the conductor’s participation in notable new Paris productions of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and Thomas Adès “The Exterminating Angel.”
What makes the news particularly striking is how well Dudamel has been received in Paris. He has been popular with the public, the press and — crucially for France, where government support of the arts is exceptional — the politicians. In September, following an acclaimed performance of “Tosca,” President Emmanuel Macron, a regular at the opera, made Dudamel an officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters. A recent new production production, conducted by Dudamel, of John Adams’ “Nixon in China” proved a timely hit.
By all accounts Dudamel’s presence in Paris looked like it would usher in a new era for opera and ballet. Dudamel had intended to work closely with the Paris Opera Ballet, which he brought to the Hollywood Bowl last summer. But in April, Dudamel withdrew from conducting Adès “The Dante Project,” which featured Wayne McGregor’s choreography. He was replaced at the last minute by former L.A. Phil Dudamel Fellow Courtney Lewis, music director of the Jacksonville Symphony in Florida.
Dudamel is not the first L.A. Phil honcho to summarily leave Paris Opera. In 1965, the visionary L.A. manager Ernest Fleischmann resigned to head Paris Opera, which was about to open an opera house. Working with composer Pierre Boulez and conductor Daniel Barenboim, Fleischmann intended to revolutionize opera. Ten days later, after running into political and commercial obstacles, Fleischmann asked for, and got, his old L.A. job back. He went on to radically remake the L.A. Phil instead by building Walt Disney Concert Hall, hiring Esa-Pekka Salonen and, as chairman of a conducting competition in Germany, helping to discover Dudamel.
Dudamel, himself, returns to a changed L.A. Phil. CEO Chad Smith announced his resignation last week in order to become president and chief executive of the Boston Symphony; the L.A. Phil board announced that Chief Operating Officer Daniel Song will serve as temporary CEO. With the Paris post, Dudamel, who divides his time between Madrid and L.A., had seemed to be increasing his attention on his career in Europe. How much that will change remains to be seen. But he will now have more opportunity, if he so chooses, to do a Fleischmann.