Santa Fe Opera Artistic Director Alexander Neef has begun his position as general director of the Opéra national de Paris several months earlier than expected.
Neef, who also is the general director of the Canadian Opera Company, has been part of the leadership structure at the Santa Fe Opera since the October 2018.
Though Neef’s appointment in Paris wasn’t a surprise — it was announced in July 2019 — the timing of his arrival is. Officials there initially said he wouldn’t join the French company until the summer of 2021. But in June, the Paris general director, Stephane Lissner, said he was stepping down at the end of December so Neef could take over sooner, describing the company as “on its knees” financially.
Just one problem emerged: It seemed no one from the Opéra national de Paris had talked with Neef or the Canadian Opera Company about Lissner’s decision.
The Canadian company issued a frosty response almost immediately, with Neef saying, “I certainly did not anticipate Lissner’s early departure. I have not yet had any formal discussions — either with the Paris Opera or members of our Board of Directors — about accelerating the start of my engagement in Paris. Moreover, the ongoing global health crisis makes it difficult to envision how any significant changes to the intended timeline could be accommodated.”
Less than three months later, Neef has taken the reins in Paris while also leading the Canadian company and serving as its artistic director for the foreseeable future.
Santa Fe Opera General Director Robert K. Meya was upbeat in his assessment of Neef’s ability to fulfill his obligations here through July 2021 when his contract expires.
“We’ve laid out our repertory plans through 2023 now,” Meya said, “and by next summer we’ll have 2024 in place. We know Alexander can’t continue as artistic director, but he will continue to be an ally and adviser.”
Neef couldn’t be reached for comment.
Meya confirmed it’s uncertain how much time Neef will be able to spend in Santa Fe next summer. The upcoming season also will be the first for the opera’s new director of production and a new technical director. Both are internal promotions, but the transitions involved are significant, especially with potential uncertainty about Neef’s status here.
Leading the Paris Opera is a gargantuan task. It has an annual budget of more than $270 million as compared to $32 million in Toronto and about $25 million in Santa Fe. The French company offers about 350 main stage performances of 30 or more opera and ballet productions on a year-round basis in two large theaters and sports a full-time staff of more than 1,800 employees.
The Santa Fe Opera has about 65 full-time employees and during the summer adds another 600 or so. A typical season consists of 37 performances of five mainstage productions.
“I am incredibly proud of the seasons we have already put in place for the future and I feel privileged to have worked with Robert and Harry as a team,” Neef said when the Paris appointment was announced. “Even when I am on other side of the Atlantic, I will always be a great friend of the Santa Fe Opera.”