In mid-June, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced that Music Director Louis Langrée was not renewing his contract and would depart at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.
Speculation about what might be next for the popular maestro was answered recently, when the French Cultural Ministry announced Langrée’s appointment as director of the Opéra Comique in Paris, one of France’s five national theaters. He begins a five-year contract Nov. 1, 2021.
Speaking by phone from Paris, Langrée sounds exhausted and exhilarated. “This position has very special resonance for me,” he tells CityBeat. “My parents and I were educated in public schools and I attended a public conservatory. Now that I’m 60, I feel it’s time to repay my country for all it helped me to achieve. And I want to mentor the next generation of artists.”
In an email to family and close friends this week, Langrée wrote with customary modesty and awe of the appointment, noting that some of the first operas he conducted were works that premiered at the Opéra Comique.
Founded in 1714 during the reign of Louis XIV, the Opéra Comique is one of the oldest theaters in France, along with Opéra national de Paris and the Comédie Française, but it was not named a national, state-supported theater until 2015.
In keeping with the protocols of being a state institution, Langrée met with staff members, the French Minister of Culture and, finally, with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It was amazing,” he says. “It was just the two of us in his office and in that half-hour, he immediately put me at ease. His knowledge of the theater and its projects deeply impressed me.”
Langrée notes that Opéra Comique is frequently mistranslated (and misunderstood) as comic opera.
“It’s the intersection of music and spoken word, like American musical theater, Spanish zarzuela and German singspiel,” he says.
Since its founding, Opéra Comique has premiered nearly 3,000 such works, including Bizet’s Carmen, Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande.
Langrée debuted at the Opéra Comique in 2009, conducting Fortunio, a lyric comedy by Andrë Messager. His new role encompasses more than conducting and music supervision — he will oversee a team of artists, administrators and educators.
“This is a space I know well and love,” Langrée says. “And it’s a terrific team.”
He acknowledges that the theater is frequently overlooked by visitors, and he would like to change its website’s description as “the best-kept secret in Paris.”
“It’s a beautiful building and you’ll have a more intimate and human experience in this theater," he says. "The acoustics are ideal and the productions are exciting.”
Langrée lists commissioning new works and mentoring young artists as top priorities. Since he assumed leadership of the CSO, he has commissioned 33 works, and he says that the CSO and Opéra Comique share a strong sense of tradition that inspires innovation and creativity.
Langrée remains committed to the CSO and the Cincinnati community during the remaining three years of his contract. He’s not attempting to blaze any new directions — “I will leave that to my successor,” he says. But he is committed to the level of excellence that he’s achieved and maintains with the CSO.
An inspiration is Charles Simon Favart who is credited with creating the opéra comique form.
“Voltaire told Favart, ‘You embellish everything you touch,'” Langrée says.
“I hope I can embellish my work with the CSO in the next three years.”
For more on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and upcoming performances, visit cincinnatisymphony.org.
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