Santa Fe Opera artistic director tapped to lead Paris Opera

Alexander Neef, the Santa Fe Opera’s artistic director since October, has been named general director of the Paris Opera, starting in 2021. Photo by Bo Huang, courtesy Santa Fe Opera

The Santa Fe Opera’s artistic director, Alexander Neef, has been named general director of the renowned Paris Opera, starting in late 2021.

He will stay on at the Santa Fe Opera at least through the summer 2021 season, spokeswoman Sullivan Peraino said.

In a statement issued late Wednesday on Neef’s selection to lead one of the world’s largest opera houses, Santa Fe Opera board President Susan Marineau lauded Neef and said, “This will create an unparalleled opportunity for collaboration between Santa Fe and Paris.”

Neef reportedly plans to leave the Toronto-based Canadian Opera Co., where he has been general director since 2008. His responsibilities in Santa Fe and in Toronto did not overlap because the operations hold their seasons at different times of year.

He joined the Santa Fe Opera as artistic director-designate in February 2018, after new General Director Robert K. Meya restructured the organization’s senior leadership, adding both an artistic director and a music director — a post filled by Harry Bicket. Neef became artistic director in October.

Neither Neef nor Meya returned requests for comment Wednesday.

In its news release, the opera said Neef has helped Meya and Bicket create plans through the 2022 season so far, and by the time he takes on his new position in Paris, he will have helped develop artistic programming through 2025.

“I am thrilled to have planned five seasons with Alexander,” Meya said in the release, “and I look forward to our continued collaboration once he takes the helm at Paris National Opera. His selection is a great compliment to the Santa Fe Opera and further extends our global recognition as one of the world’s leading opera festivals.”

Neef had a prior stint at the Paris Opera from 2004-08 as casting director under Gerard Mortier, who was general director at that time and had been a mentor to Neef at a German art and music festival.

“It’s a pretty emotional day, obviously,” Neef told the New York Times on Wednesday. “It’s a big honor and a big responsibility. … What I really look forward to is reconnecting with the people [in Paris].”

France 24, an English-language news website, reported that French President Emmanuel Macron was personally involved in Neef’s selection.

Neef told the New York Times that Macron had interviewed him for 45 minutes.

In the Santa Fe Opera’s news release, Neef touted the organization.

“The Santa Fe Opera has provided such a great opportunity to be involved in opera in this very unique and special setting,” Neef said. “As the premiere opera festival in North America, it has afforded me a set of experiences I would not have been able to obtain elsewhere.”

Born and raised in Germany, Neef graduated from the University of Tübingen, where he studied Latin and history, and began his career in opera working as artistic administrator for Mortier at the Ruhrtriennale, a two-month arts and music festival in the Ruhr area of Germany. Neef later followed Mortier to the Paris Opera.

Mortier was preparing to assume the direction of the New York City Opera in late 2008 but unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy. Neef had been set to follow him, but he was invited instead to head the Canadian Opera Co. and accepted that post.