The Paris Opera
The Management and Governance
of a Major Cultural Institution

A book written by Philippe Agid &
Jean-Claude Tarondeau


L'Opéra de Paris,
Gouverner une grande institution culturelle,

a book written by Philippe Agid and Jean Claude Tarondeau,
published by Vuibert, Paris, February 2006

The books main objective is to explain the turn around of the Paris National Opera in the middle of the nineties under the responsibility of Hughes Gall, in charge of the house between 1995 and 2004.This turnaround took place after a long period of difficulties, partly related to the opening of the new Opera Bastille in 1989. Hughes Gall had requested wide responsibilities and power as a condition to accept the responsibility of the Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille, both part of the Paris National Opera.

We give two significations to the word Gouverner, which refers both to governance and to management. First, the relationship between the Director and the State administration is key, just because the French state administration provides annually the Paris Opera with 65 % of a budget which amounts to more than 150 millions euros. We describe how this relationship has been made more confident and efficient under Gall’s mandate. Management is linked to Governance. Gall’s policy has been, in 1993/1995, to write in detail a pluriannual program of activities, not only including programming of lyrical and ballet performances, but also proposing a more professional reorganisation of procedures and methods, and a strong will to master costs in all fields of activities. After 2004, it makes sense to understand how this plan has been worked out and appears afterwards as a success. A detailed description of both the governance and management aspects of leadership in the Paris Opera during this period appears for the first time in a book which reviews programming and production policy, financing and marketing policies, personnel management practices without avoiding describing the difficult social conflicts of the end of the nineties. This is the central part of the book.

We do not concentrate only on the 1995/ 2004 period.

We look at the Paris Opera history, and this is the first part of the book. We felt as a necessity to understand and explain what had been in the past the main features of the relation ship between the state administration and the sometimes very famously known directors in charge of the Paris Opera, such as Lully at the end of the 17th century, Véron and Messager in the 19th century, Rouché and Liebermann in the 20th century. Relations between the state administration and the Paris Opera have always been complex and sometimes irrational. This historical panorama- “The historical models” of the Paris Opera governance offers a possibility to understand better the roots of difficulties which made so uncertain the first management team of the house in 1989, when Daniel Barenboim, first chosen as the artistic director of the house, was fired with no serious professional argument.

But we also compare the Paris Opera between 1998 and 2004 to three other houses, the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Wien’s Staats Oper in Austria, the Bayerische Staats oper of Munich in Germany. These three very famously well known houses in the world are up to a point comparable with each other and with the Paris Opera in terms of size and activities, in spite of significant differences between the lyrical and ballet activities that the book identifies. We find some remarquable similarities in the choice of lyrical titles chosen to be performed by the four houses, and such an observation can be extended to a large number of opera houses in Europe and North America. We also observe that production policies differ from repertoire to semi stagione, stagione, or alternate stagione modes of organisation. Artistic and social environment, expectations are far from being completely comparable. During this period the audience of these four houses has been quite successful, in spite of a certain weakening after September 11th 2001 events, in the USA more than in Europe. Costs and budgets also differ from house to house. For instance the budget of the Bayerische Staats Oper is significantly lower. Explaining the differences is of interest. The volume of lyrical performances has been dramatically increased under Gall’s management. It still remains below the three other houses, in spite of very high number of ballet performances.

In a third part of the book, we focus on the future of the Paris Opera from now to 2015. We do not comment much on Gerard Mortier’s bilan since 2004, as all significant figures are not yet available. On the basis of the 1995-2004 bilan, we logically view two sorts of improvements, economic, and institutional as far as we consider artistic, musical and vocal quality as a must. The economic goal is to make more and well, given the level of financial resources likely to be available. We review all the possibilities to decrease costs, and to increase the number of performances, given proper marketing evaluations. We also propose an improvement of governance practices, which were already enhanced from 1995 but remain fragile.

Other future issues are not specific to the Paris Opera. Composition and production of new operas still exist on both sides of the Atlantic. It has though to be recognized that, for any reason, these new operas do not meet the same popular success as met by the 18th, 19th and 20th century’s masterpieces from Monteverdi to Kurt Weil, from Gluck to Wagner and Strauss, from Rossini to Verdi and Puccini.

Opera remain an extraordinary form of art. When correctly performed, it brings unequal emotion and global satisfaction not to say happiness to those who take the time to be attentive to it. This is why we so hardly advocate for the strongest organisational schemes for opera houses to be able to revive the existing masterpieces of opera.

Philippe Agid
Jean Claude Tarondeau