Nicolas Joel and the star system.

Nicolas Joel is finding that running the Opéra National de Paris is not as easy as planned and he has not yet sat in the chair. Marking a clear change from star-adverse Gerard Mortier, he graced his first season, 2009-10, with well-known names. Tenor Rolando Villazon was the Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore (the Laurent Pelly production) next October and, more significantly, he would sing the title role in Mozart’s Idomeneo in January-February opposite no less than Anna Netrebko as Elettra. These two, in roles outside their usual repertory and with a new production by Luc Bondy, would certainly have attracted the opera world’s undivided attention.

The surgery on the vocal cords of Villazon, and the cancellation of all engagements until the end of the year already had changed the lineup for the Elisir. However, a few days ago it was announced he was not singing in Carmen in Vienna in May of next year. Just today the other shoe dropped when the Opéra announced he would not appear in Idomeneo and, for unstated reasons (sympathy perhaps?) Netrebko has pulled out too. Last minute replacements have tenor Charles Workman promoted from his scheduled role of Arbace and Tamar Iveri singing Elettra. (She will be heard earlier as Mimi in the October-November La Bohème at Opéra Bastille opposite Natalie Dessay singing her first Musetta.)

The two megastars, having just gutted the centerpiece of next season, left Joel’s first season more than a little compromised. Proving, yet again, that the star system can be a double-edged sword.


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