Breaking: Dudamel quits Paris in massive personal failure

Breaking: Dudamel quits Paris in massive personal failure


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2023

Rumours have been rustling for some time of tensions between Gustavo Dudamel and the Paris Opéra chief Alexander Neef, but no-one expected an instant breakdown.

Today, the Opéra let it be known that Dudamel will leave in August, after just two years in the job.

The music director says he wants to spend more time with his family.

The Opéra says it respects his decision.

The New York Philharmonic expects he may give them more time sooner than expected. He may, or may not, fulfil his Paris conducting dates next season: it’s that uncertain. He had four years left to run on his conract.

Interpret today’s event whichever way you like, this is the biggest failure in Dudamel’s pristine career.

Here’s the press release, leaked first by Dudamel’s folk to the soft-touch New York Times:
L’Opéra national de Paris annonce la démission de Gustavo Dudamel de ses fonctions de directeur musical, pour raisons personnelles, à l’issue de la saison 22/23.

Alexander Neef, directeur général de l’Opéra national de Paris, prend acte de sa décision et souhaite prendre un temps de réflexion quant au choix de la personnalité qui lui succèdera, tant la fonction est essentielle au rayonnement de l’institution.

Propos de Gustavo Dudamel :
« C’est avec le cœur lourd, et après mûre réflexion, que j’annonce ma démission du poste de directeur musical de l’Opéra de Paris afin de passer plus de temps avec ma famille.
Ce fut un privilège de partager de si beaux moments avec l’Orchestre, les artistes des Chœurs et les équipes artistiques de l’Opéra de Paris au cours des deux dernières saisons. Nous vivons une époque qui, je crois, a profondément et intimement bouleversé nos êtres et j’en retire une plus grande appréciation de la vie, et je réalise à quel point l’art et la musique enrichissent mon quotidien et celui de celles et ceux qui m’entourent.

Je n’ai pas d’autres projets que d’être avec mes proches. Je leur suis profondément reconnaissant pour leur soutien dans ma détermination à toujours grandir et me dépasser, tant dans ma vie personnelle qu’artistique, jour après jour ».

Propos d’Alexander Neef :
« Je remercie Gustavo Dudamel dont la passion et l’immense talent ont beaucoup apporté au répertoire de notre maison. Il a su nouer une relation particulière avec les musiciens de l’Orchestre, les artistes des Chœurs, les chanteurs et les équipes artistiques, une relation empreinte de respect mutuel et de volonté de proposer ensemble les plus beaux spectacles. Le succès récent de Nixon in China en est une des illustrations les plus éclatantes. Gustavo Dudamel est un immense musicien. Je lui exprime ma profonde reconnaissance pour le travail accompli pendant son mandat, et je respecte pleinement sa décision ».
L’Opéra national de Paris communiquera prochainement sur les spectacles de la saison 23/24 annoncés avec la participation de Gustavo Dudamel.


  • samach says:

    Speechless. What the hell happened?

    Racontez !

    This is the history of the Paris Opera, at least Dudamel lasted 2 years longer than Barenboim who was summarily dismissed by Madame Yves Saint Laurent.

    • Mikhail Hallak says:

      “Madame Yves Saint Laurent” en 2023? C’est très médiocre de votre part

    • Håkon says:

      When his appointment in Paris was announced, I and several of my colleagues were quite surprised that he and his management would put him into a dysfunctional place like that. Not that I am a big fan of Dudamel, but I do know how absolutely appalling it is to work in any French organisation, with more than 4 people, no matter what it is.
      The levels of amateurism, laziness, back stabbing, intrigues, disrespect for their colleagues and management, of constant strikes and threats of strikes, of constant outrageous demands of the workers, of political interference at every level…a real horror show!
      It doesn’t matter who manages the Opéra de Paris. They will either fall in line and become a politicised bureaucratic executor or they will be out themselves.
      For all of the money that France has put into the Opéra de Paris it has never really achieved international greatness and fame, on the lines of the Met, Covent Garden, La Scala, Berlin, Madrid or even Chicago.
      They have managed some above average productions in Paris, but nothing truly outstanding and cutting edge, as everything there is always shrouded in some impending strike, some impending cancellation, some impending dismissal, some scandal, some impending resignation, some political interference, always something negative, stressful and unpleasant. The international artists who venture into that trap, all get disgusted quite fast….think Barenboim, think Karajan, think Solti…and now Dudamel and so many others, singers included.
      Dudamel will be fine after this, as leaving a place like Paris on bad terms or with disagreement does not hurt any international career. the New York Philharmonic will now get more dates and Mr. Dudamel can conduct in more normal and pleasant places.

      • Liz Huebner says:

        The greatness and fame of Chicago ? I understand if you compare with ROH , WSO etc, but Chicago … really ?

        • Singeril says:

          You must not know how artists feel about various companies. Chicago is one of the truly favorite of companies for most singers. And this has historically been he case.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yes, I’ve heard the CSO in the Musikverein and this orchestra was right up there with the very very best. Stunning, in fact. It was over a decade ago with Muti out front – but very impressive.

        • Tom Phillips says:

          Historically Lyric Opera is a world-class company and far more efficiently managed than Paris. It suffers only by having a shorter season (like all non-Met U.S. houses).

        • Michael says:

          Have you seen what Chicago has been doing, even lately? Check out this year’s innovative, pioneering season. Factotum, Proximity. Certainly it’s smaller than the Met, La Scala, Berlin… But world class is not a function of size but quality, vision, innovation and talent it attracts. Don’t be so ethnocentric. See what’s really going on.

      • Clem says:

        I couldn’t agree more. They had a visionary for a while with Gerard Mortier, he left frustrated and was replaced by a hack. You forgot one important factor: the Paris audience, which is as shortsighted and mediocre as it is loud and arrogant.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Hang on; aren’t they all victims of tyrannical conductors. You know, shrinking violets easily intimidated by certain males on the podium!! This is the narrative we’ve heard over and over and over.

      • Jackson says:

        Karajan was never involved with the Paris Opera. Solti had a successful run, backed up by Rolf Liebermann.

      • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

        Your comment may concern French cultural organizations, not French organizations like L’Oréal and LVMH, who are admired world leaders.

      • Tristan says:

        no true – Hugues Gall did a good job and then with Mortier again it went down especially with awful Lissner

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        I agree with your post concerning Paris, but life is different in other parts of France.

      • Joe says:

        Dudamel will love his tenure in New York. He will love the orchestra and the audience and they will love him. There will be squabbles and that is part of any healthy relationship. Building attendance up and bring down the median age is the challenge. I hope he succeeds

    • Tristan says:

      no worries both overrated

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Everything seemed to be going so well for him recently that a bump in the road comes as no surprise. I’d welcome some insider leaks about what was really going on.

  • samach says:

    Nathalie! Nathalie! Nathalie!

  • BP says:

    I have a conspiracy theory that Barenboim has tapped him to be his successor in Berlin. Just putting it out there on the basis of nothing.

    • Alviano says:


    • Anon says:

      It would be a fabulous choice, but sound wise he is a better fit for Vienna.

      • Harpist says:

        Vienna has no principal conductor.

      • Tristan says:

        not at all – Turandot was a disaster

        • Anon says:

          I consider everything he conducted in Vienna “a disaster” by his standards in LA. Still, sound wise he would indeed be a good fit. But now I seem to remember Vienna has now decided to do away with the music director role at the Staatsoper. In that case—never mind.

      • Joe says:

        Interesting. Berlin is a tough organization to lead. I though Rattle did a great job but he took his hard knocks like a gentleman. Vienna would be a wiser choice. New York might become just right for him. Not easy by any means but quite doable.

    • HSY says:

      He should wait for Thielemann to fail there first.

    • Prof says:

      RIGHT… nothing would help this operatic ignoramus prove that he was the rightful heir of the Berliner Staatsoper quite like giving up his first and only opera position after two short years of non achievement.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    This is a failure of the French Opera. The Dude doesn’t need them. Maybe he can get the MET away from Yannick.

    • Jobim75 says:

      Who needs the dude, the courant d’air conductor, reminds Maazel in 80’s being everywhere and nowhere…

    • Novagerio says:

      Mick: and just what the hell is Dudamel doing in a major opera house? Has he ever worked as a korrepetiteur? Does he master the entire operatic repertoire?
      Is it just about a “hobby” at the side? Or perhaps just another publicity stunt by his lobbies and the markets?

    • Kathleen E King says:

      From your keyboard to God’s ears! If Yannick goes and takes GELB with him the Met will be a MUCH better place.

  • CarlD says:

    I don’t consider it a failure. The Paris Opera is having financial difficulties and this reflects worse on the institution than Dudamel.

    • Barry says:

      Financial difficulties?

      NL reported here in April that: “The Opéra de Paris receives 99.7 million euros from the Government in operating subsidy. That is two and a half times as much as Covent Garden and English National Opera put together.”

      And Pappano has been at the Royal Opera House since 2002.

      In spite of this, our musical institutions attract spite from all sides and “Das Land ohne Musik” is still considered humorous on this site. “The Land without Confidence” would make more sense.

      • CarlD says:

        The Paris Opera recently canceled planned trips to London and Vienna, citing “financially challenging” aspects of touring.

      • says:

        Thanks to this envelop Paris has two excellents concert halls (Philarmonie and Radio France) were everybody even the American orchestras want to come. I am not sure that the London-Bojo-Barbican method is better…. Maybe I am wrong. I have doubts that you are French and pay for the French cultural life.

        • Barry says:

          “I am not sure that the London-Bojo-Barbican method is better”

          Didn’t say it was; I wasn’t trying to encourage an “us v them” argument. The point I was making, which seemed clear to me, is that there is less excuse for “financial difficulties” with that level of subsidy.

          Throwing money at an organisation doesn’t guarantee success.

      • CarlD says:

        Not sure why it hasn’t posted, but to explain — the Paris Opera recent cancelled performances in London and Vienna, citing “financial challenges of touring.”

  • A.L. says:

    The sacking took two years? I’d say they should’ve known within two days.

  • caranome says:

    Oh right, want to spend more time with family. How lame! Not even artistic differences?!

    • Kathleen E King says:

      To have “artistic differences” there have to be two sides which have “artistic” competence. I count in this matter only one so no difference, but at least there’re family members…

  • Karden says:

    Just as the LA Phil’s departing CEO apparently had issues (with employees and visa versa), I wonder how much of the Paris Opera is affected by the same things? Based on the press release, however, the superficial aspects appear okay. But if an outsider digs below the surface?

    I was reading a year or so ago about the inside goings-on at the Seattle Symphony, and, whoa, clashes of opinions and personalities sure do breed a bit of dysfunction. Then again, look at what sometimes occurs in this forum: The very, very thin line of civilization and so-called civilized behavior.

  • nixon says:

    he was very lost during john adams nixon run. so was the orchestra. opera is not his forte and doesn’t know the languages except spanish.

    • Melisande says:

      Very lost during Nixon in China run? What are you talking about?
      Quite the opposite!

      • Ramesh Nair says:

        I agree with Melisande. I attended the opening night of NiC and Dudamel got elicited an excellent response from the orchestra : rhythmically very precise and punchy. And the staging, with its montages of the abuse of musicians and intellectuals by Mao’s Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution was visceral and highly moving. Last night I was at the Garnier for the Ades’ Dante Project [ Ades conducting ], and will return tomorrow night to catch another performance. I didn’t manage to see the ROHCG premiere of this work, but as far as full-length contemporary ballets go, this had real musical substance. I’m unsure what the ratio of ballet to opera performances is at ROHCG, but the O de Paris would be better named as the Paris ballet, with an opera season attached. The ballet audience is much younger, and more vocal in their enthusiasm. The ballet audience is probably the next generation’s opera-going audience.

    • Michael Lemieux says:

      Dudamel never bothered to master English despite spending over a decade in LA . He has a personal assistant/translator at LA Phil that he depends on. I am sure he didn’t bother to learn any French, either.

      • Desk jockey says:

        From the interviews, his French is magnificent

      • Anna Marks says:

        Contrary to the popular belief that ALL musicians have an ear for languages. Indeed they don’t!

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        I agree that his level of English – if such can be judged by his press statements – is seriously wanting, considering the amount of time he has lived in LA (okay, okay…) and has necessarily had to use the language. Paris is all about politics, though; which other capital city music staff contains no foreigners, for example?

      • Ronni says:

        Having sat in on many informal Fridays where Dudamel answers questions after the LA Phil concerts, and also having seen many of his rehearsals, there is nothing wrong with his English. His English is quite sophisticated. He can relay extremely detailed emotional description, offers marvelous analogies to get what he wants out of his musicians, and cracks wonderful jokes. So, you have no idea about what you speak, dear.

    • Edoardo says:

      I struggle to find a repertoire that is forte….

    • Clem says:

      Dear Mr. Ex-President, I doubt very much you were there. Nixon (the one in China) was brilliant.

    • Brian Morgan says:

      On the podium, I find him a bit ADHD.

  • Eugene Gauß says:

    We saw Dudamel conduct the orchestra of the Paris Opéra last fall in a splendid performance of Mahler’s Ninth. His rapport with the musicians was palpable: they were extremely attentive – on the edge of their seats – and often actually smiling. My take is that his abrupt departure from the Opéra is not about the music and thus doesn’t amount to a “failure.”

    • says:

      I have seen him for a Berlioz Fantastique who was fantastic and for à Wagner Tristan later Who was very encouraging. with some singers who were not at the top at the same moment. But he didn t stay enough in Paris during the three last years and the fact that he didn t make any record was a sign that it will end soon.

    • EastsideArts says:

      Why would musicians be smiling during Mahler 9? it’s most definitely not a “smiley” work……

  • Jobim75 says:

    Frankly, he was obviously not ready to commit much… the head always elsewhere….. Paris was never such a big musical place, it s more a ladder to get elsewhere….it has been seen with Barenboim, Makela etc….Dudamel is very ambitious, he was lucky enough to make his name on a system who proved since be a kind of fraud but he’s no Karajan…. maybe just like him as an opportunist but no such an artist..remains a bit of bitter taste….

  • bored muso says:

    He’s such a unique individual conductor.
    Can such talent really put up with all the crap and collaboration an opera house restricts the skills of a gifted orchestral conductor?
    There is life after an Opera House and all it’s backstage politics you know!

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Good conductors “colllaborate”. They are not a one-man band. In varying degrees, we all have to put up with (your word) “crap”.

      • Bored Muso says:

        You misunderstand my point.
        An orchestral conductor (what the Dude really is) has to collaborate only with his fellow musos.
        An opera or ballet conductor has to put up with crap from Directors and choreograhers (and dancers and singers, unless he can persuade and charm them to his musical interpretation?)
        Tiredofitall, you are obviously not a conductor!

  • Judy says:

    “Massive personal failure”? The Paris Opera said for “personal reasons”. Massive personal failure sounds libellous having regard to what both parties actually said.

    • AlexF says:

      The institution is never going to say “our choice of music director was a commercial/PR move, but he is not cut for work in a major opera because he does not have enough experience, doesn’t know well enough the repertoire, can’t help in coaching the singers etc., so we are happy to see him go”, they just say “we respect his decision. Good luck!”.

  • Hervé says:

    J’ attendais ça depuis des mois… Personne n’ a jamais
    duré longtemps à la tête de l’ Opéra de Paris…. un vrai
    panier de crabes.

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    How your takeaway that this is a “massive personal failure” is beyond me.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Try harder.

      • Fiddlist says:

        Or is it Opéra Paris’ failure? Dudamel is certainly a bigger name than theirs. Or maybe the Dude just couldn’t stand French bureaucracy. As Flaubert wrote: “you have to fill in 28 forms just to keep a boat on the river.”

  • Has-been says:

    I seem to remember the Paris Opera ran very well with Hughes Gall as Intendant and James Conlin as principal conductor. Their duties did not conflict and both men had clearly defined responsibilities.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      The last three music directors of the Paris Opera (Jordan, Conlin, and Chung had tenures ranging from 8 to 15 years. Soooo…maybe the problem is Sr. Dudamel after all?

    • Brian says:

      Hugues Gall; a real gentleman and man of the theater. They don’t make them like him anymore. He was respected and admired by everyone who had the pleasure to interact with him.

    • Zandonai says:

      Maybe Conlin was a better communicator than Dudamel?

  • Beatitude says:

    The Dude will come out of this just fine. With all the continuing and well-publicized turmoil within that dysfunctional organization, all the negativity resulting from these circumstances will be reflect badly on them (at least for anyone outside of France). Folks can legitimately quibble about his conducting technique or style, but he has an unblemished record working with musicians, creatives and the executive management of many orchestras throughout the Americas and Europe. For all the ambition, he remains affable and good-natured. He does not tend to play politics and prefers to focus his attention of raising the bar for any company he works with or for. And he has the absolute confidence to believe that he can always be successful to that end. It’s why Paris was always going to be such a gamble – they simply were never going to allow him to make it so.

    • EastsideArts says:

      So he accomplishes little other than acting as an effective figurehead? Seems about right…..

  • zweito says:

    When opera in my Paris stays, a quote from later Met Opera general manager Rudolf Bing “Miss Peters has had a bad night, but the Paris Opera has had a bad century.” has came up in my mind. No intention to reflect on this situation.

  • Stuart says:

    MASSIVE PERSONAL FAILURE – a valid opinion, but one hardly backed up by any facts. More of a Paris issue than a personal issue.

    Love the new book, by the way – only about a quarter of the way through. Well done.

  • John kelly says:

    I suspect he’s packing it up to AVOID a personal failure………….

  • Joe Schwartz says:

    Pseudo-journalist continues to write classical music gossip column in massive personal failure.

  • Willem Philips says:

    Please explain how it is a failure. I think that’s an interpretation subject to much criticism.

  • Alex says:

    He was basically never there, what kind of in-depth work could he have done with the orchestra? It’s probably for the best for the OdP (of course he too will be fine).

  • Harpist says:

    Not sure if it is a failure on HIS side or on the Paris’ Opera side. Not a big fan or critique of him so it remains to be seen, especially what he does in NY. I likes his M9 here recently. My wide didn’t.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Contrary to a few comments here the Lyric Opera of Chicago, founded in 1954, is one of the great opera companies of the world in my opinion.

  • christian says:

    Absolutely plausible.
    He is just to good to work with someone like Neef.
    Neef is someone with a limited understanding about singers and no vision but completely addicted to power.
    At the end , Dudamel was completely disappointed by Neef’s doing.

    • PirequeLui says:

      Well said. I can confirm from inside that you nail the truth. Neef is the problem. Alongside “casting” by Sophie Joyce. They are creating mediocrity night after night. Both are power hungry with no talent.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    It is *possible* that he’s fully realized that running an opera house and an orchestra on either side of the Atlantic isn’t a great way to live personally or musically, and that being in NY instead of LA wasn’t going to improve that. Heck, perhaps he’s looked at Yannick and realized that running a major opera house and orchestra even less than 100 miles apart isn’t conducive to personal and musical growth.

    In any case, this might be a victory for sanity.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    These sense of schadenfreude here is palpable!!

    Good luck to the Dude.

  • Musician says:

    Nice headline. He’s doing just fine actually!

  • Unvaccinated says:

    He should have stuck to the violin.

  • Mr. Ron says:

    He has New York now, no need for Paris.

    He’s superb.

  • Bah-oui says:

    This is all about Alexander Neef. Only room for one princess in the house. How will this dent his warrior crusade to get the Met after Gelb. Dudamel is a true talent: Neef, a power hungry, greedy small man. What a shame Neef does not leave and the art is prioritized about management OCD.

  • Nick2 says:

    “Personal reasons” is usually a cover up phrase for something deeper rooted. Is not Dudamel now a Spanish citizen and his wife lives in Spain? If so, he’d be much closer to home with a base in Paris than in New York. No doubt this must be the usual demons that lurk in the Paris position and he’s just got totally pissed off as a result. I do wonder, though, if he and his manager had really thought through all the possible problems of running any opera house, let alone that in Paris, prior to his accepting the appointment.

  • Julien says:

    For the French bashing’s lovers, just remember that Philippe Jordan left Vienna a few months ago.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    The Dude is a good & charismatic conductor- but he’s overstretched. Also- the music scene (particularly operatic) in Paris is a nest of vipers. Didn’t a similar fate befall Myung Whun Chung a couple of decades back?

  • JR says:

    Sat behind him at the opening of Nixon in China. Was able to look over his shoulder. As a career conductor, I can say It was brilliant conducting. Throughout constant meter changes, cues to the complex ever-moving stage, timing, shape, excellent rapport with the diverse forces in the pit, masterful conducting.

  • Fenway says:

    Career failure? This is a triumph. Free of the pathetic French.

  • Mr. Barolo says:

    “Massive personal failure” seems a bit strong absent any supporting detail whatever.

  • Radbod says:

    how many p.r. clichés can you cram into one press release? One wonders if there’s anything more to it than Dudamel simply got a job he likes better in NY.

  • Roy Humphrey says:

    I thought that this website was English. Why insert a whole tract in French and not a translation for this website???!!!???

  • Fiddleman says:

    Something doesn’t add up. Dudamel says he is leaving Paris in order to spend more time with his family, who is in Madrid. But he’s taken the job in New York. I thought Paris it’s an easier commute to Spain than from New York.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Why, oh why, NL, do you divide conductors and other performers into good guys and bad guys? You’re certainly a strong believer in the good and evil paradigm. At least you’re very blatant about it.

  • Renaud says:

    Time for Lorenzo Viotti

  • Zandonai says:

    All I remember was Dudamel bringing Paris Opera Ballet to the Hollywood Bowl last year and it was a fiasco. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes how bad the dancing was.

  • The View from America says:

    This news about Dudamel and the Opera was first reported in Paris Mismatch magazine.

  • Karden says:

    I just read an article that mentioned how a former CEO of the LA Philharmonic, Ernest Fleishman, in 1985 decided to become the head of the Paris Opera. Then 10 days later (!) he resigned from that role and returned to the LA Phil.

    Or: The old is new again. And: What goes around comes around.

  • Piano Lover says:

    The newOpolite way of saying “I GIT FIRED”=I want to spend more time with my family…yeah yeah sure.What was it before WITHOUT the family HUH??