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Dudamel in surprise move resigns from Paris Opéra 2 years into 6-year contract

FILE - Gustavo Dudamel is introduced as the New York Philharmonic's 27th music and artistic director in New York on Feb. 20, 2023, starting with the 2026-27 season. Dudamel resigned as music director of the Paris Opéra on Thursday, less than two seasons into a six-year contract scheduled to run through July 2027. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Gustavo Dudamel announced his resignation as music director of the Paris Opéra on Thursday, a surprise decision two seasons into a six-year contract scheduled to run through the 2026-27 season.

A 42-year-old Venezuelan who lives in Madrid, Dudamel was hired in February by the New York Philharmonic as its music director starting with the 2026-27 season. He has been music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009, a tenure that will end after 17 seasons when Dudamel starts in New York.

“It is with a heavy heart, and after long consideration, that I announce my resignation as music director of the Paris Opéra in order to spend more time with my family,” Dudamel said in a statement Thursday.

His early exit from Paris at the end of the current season in August could free the conductor for additional engagements in New York, where Jaap van Zweden leaves after the 2023-24 season, his sixth as music director.

“I have 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,” Dudamel said.

Dudamel conducted the New York Philharmonic last weekend, for the first time since his appointment was announced, in three performances of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, and he is not scheduled with the orchestra next season. He and Philharmonic CEO Deborah Borda participated in extensive planning meetings last week.

“He's been considering his life very carefully over the past couple of years. Like so many people during the pandemic, he took the time, we all took the time, to evaluate our lives, our goals, our futures, finding just the right balance,” Borda said in a telephone interview. “This is a critical move on really the chessboard of his life as he contemplates his future.”

Dudamel made his Paris Opéra debut in December 2017 in Claus Guth's staging of Puccini's “La Bohème” that was moved to a spaceship, and his appointment by the Paris Opéra was announced in April 2021 to start that Aug. 1.

He conducted new productions of Puccini’s “Turandot” and Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” in his first season, followed this season by a revival of Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde” and the company debut of John Adams' “Nixon in China.” The 2023-24 season, announced in March, has Dudamel leading a new production of Wagner's “Lohengrin“ starting Sept. 23 and Thomas Ades' “The Exterminating Angel” starting Feb. 9.

The status of his engagements with the company next season is not clear.

Alexander Neef had hired Dudamel after being appointed general director of the Paris Opéra in July 2019 to succeed Stéphane Lissner for the 2021-22 season. Neef praised Dudamel's “passion and immense talent.”

“He was able to forge a special relationship with the musicians of the orchestra, the artists of the chorus, the singers and the artistic teams, a relationship marked by mutual respect and the desire to create the most beautiful performances together,” Neef said in a statement. “Gustavo Dudamel is an immense musician. I express my deep gratitude to him for the work accomplished during his tenure, and I fully respect his decision.”

Dudamel's short tenure is unusual in the opera world, where scheduling often is done five years in advance. His predecessors as Paris music director were Philippe Jordan (2009–21) and James Conlon (1994-2004).

Ronald Blum, The Associated Press

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