Death of French opera chief, 67

Death of French opera chief, 67


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2020

We’re distressed to learn of the death of Nicolas Joel,former general manager of the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse from 1990 to 2009 and of the Paris Opera from 2009 to 2014. No cause is known.

Nicolas started out as Patrice Chéreau’s assistant at the 1976 Bayreuth centennial Ring. He worked internationally as a stage director – I remember Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden and Aida in Vienna – but the bulk of his career, almost 30 years was spent building a world-class opera company in Toulouse.

When the call came to take over in Paris, it was too late. He was set in Toulouse ways and struggled to adapt to Parisian politics. He resigned after a single term, blaming imminent budget cuts.

He was very good company at dinner. May he rest in peace.

press photo: Opéra de Paris


  • hoe terribly sad! I loved his production very much. This one is among my favourites


    Grande tristesse

  • John Rook says:

    Nicolas Joel was an excellent theatre director. He knew the core repertoire by heart and launched many a promising young singer to future legitimate stardom. Having an aneurism just before taking over in Paris didn’t help him there and the august capital took badly to having a ‘provincial’ director taking the reins of their opera house. Interviewed by some capital rag or other, he was asked:

    ‘Monsieur Joel, you haven’t actually directed very much in capital cities, have you?’

    ‘Hmm, New York, Milan, Geneva, San Francisco…Yes, you’re right’.

    His mind was like a steel trap and his language skills were legendary. His productions were generally quite traditional and always extremely singer-friendly. The casts he assembled spoke (and sang) for themselves.

    RIP, M. Joel, you are already sorely missed.

  • Zena Baker (Soprano in the Chorus of the Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse, France says:

    I joined the Theatre du Capitole, Toulouse in 1993 and those years with Mr Joel as our director were the best years of my career and I would say of my life. An amazing man who gave us such wonderful opportunities and treasured musical memories. We saw the first major performances of many a young singer, as they, through his care and direction and that of Michel Plasson, were lifted onto the world platform of opera. His love of languages enabled him to make everyone feel included and he loved to tease me in English. I believe he had a passion for good food and home cooking. He chided me one year when I admitted I didn’t make my own Christmas Pudding… he of course had made his in November! Sadly I think it was in 2009 Mr Joel suffered a sever stroke and was fortunate to have survived, but he was resilient and worked hard to regain his strength and mobility, determined that it would not end his carrier and went on to direct the Paris Opera. In later years, we enjoyed his occasional visits back to the theatre in Toulouse, when he would greet us as old friends, however I was always in ore of him and his larger than life charisma, which never faided despite his increasing physical frailty. He will be sadly missed by all his colleagues in Toulouse and around the world.

  • batonbaton says:

    I enjoyed Mr Joel’s very interesting production of Enescu’s Oedipe in Toulouse – I pity the fact that it did not follow him to Paris. He will be sadly missed in Toulouse and in the wider opera world. I got the sense that, for him the music and the performers and singers really mattered. If only others in his position took that approach!

  • John Rook says:

    Only four comments?

  • Richard Bernas says:

    With his many languages, musical training, international experience and political skills, Nicholas Joel was one of the (few?) people completely qualified to run an Opera house. Thanks to his hands-on experience of so many departments of the theatre, Toulouse was a great place to work, welcoming, collegial and also demanding. That’s an exceptional legacy.

  • John Rook says:

    Dignified funeral this afternoon at the Saint-Sernin basilica in Toulouse. Solos by Sophie Koch and Kevin Amiel and part of the ladies’ chorus sang In Paradisum from the Fauré Requiem. Eulogies from Christophe Ghristi and the Mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Luc Moudenc. Shame the building saw fit to take delivery of a consignment of cardboard boxes during the service.