What Dallas Needs from Emmanuel Villaume, the Opera's New Music Director

The Dallas Opera has been keeping the identity of its new Music Director under top-secret lockdown. While waiting for the big reveal, we started daydreaming about this newest addition to Dallas' classical music scene and compiling a wish list.

The big reveal came yesterday at TDO's Winspear offices. After sitting down with TDO's new conductor, we're excited and hopeful. Here's our wish list, Monsieur:

1. Have Awesome Friends (And Share Them With Us) Globetrotting music directors who conduct in the world's best opera houses have tons of opportunities to develop relationships with huge stars. Selfishly, we'd like someone who will have some pull with a superstar or two.

Villaume's resume includes an extensive list of big-name collaborators, including a 2012 European tour with one of today's hottest sopranos, Anna Netrebko. We asked Villaume if we can expect him to bring any of this talent with him to Dallas. "I'm really going to try as much as I can to bring all my friends to Dallas," he said, "including the most famous ones."

In addition to "all these mega stars," he said he wants to try to identify the stars of tomorrow. "You need a balance," he said," between great names and young artists. That combination can be very profitable for a company and community."

2. Have Dramatic Flair Opera is the most dramatic of musical arts, so it is disconcerting when the guy at the front of the pit is conservative, stodgy or stiff. On first impression, Villaume has just the kind of personality an opera house conductor needs.

For starters: Anyone who chooses a salmon-colored shirt with a blue and yellow tie for his first-day-in-the-office-outfit is no wallflower. Villaume also has the whole French, romantic je ne sais quoi thing down pat. In his free time he reads 19th-century French romantic poetry (Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme, etc.) and he loves "cooking and eating dinners with friends."

3. Be Willing To Take Risks With New and Old Repertoire As Music Director, Villaume will have a great deal of influence in artistic decisions at TDO. We'd love to see someone with a passion not only for bringing in more modern operas but for finding ways to make the classics feel modern, too.

Villaume isn't ready to get specific about future programming choices, but he does say he has made a point to conduct as much new music as possible. In his most recent post as Artistic Director of the Slovenian Philharmonic, he programmed a new piece in half of the concerts every season, making sure to explore a variety of modern schools (neo-romantic, serial, concrete music, etc.). He was also quick to point out that the old masterworks are "not old fashioned."

"Come on," he said, "Rodolfo and Mimi falling in love [in Puccini's La bohème], that's new. That's the magic of art connecting to the cycle of life and, when we are tapping into masterworks, we see through generation and through historical period, new things that we didn't understand before. The job of a conductor or stage director is to tap into those incredible universal realities, translate them and make them relevant to our time. We must not hide them, but instead put them in the face of the audience."

4. Be An Integral Part of Dallas' Artistic Community Too often conductors go from airport to hotel to opera house and back, without getting to know the city where their audience lives. Villaume made it clear today that he plans to put down some roots here.

Right now he "lives in airplanes," despite having an apartment in Paris and a studio in New York. "I'm never home," he said, "and so I'm happy to make Dallas home. I will be here several months of the year. It's one of the things I was looking forward to, you know, a place where I can finally stay more than one night and have a rapport with friends and the community."

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Katie Womack
Contact: Katie Womack