Gustavo Dudamel, the superstar maestro, will resign his post as music director of the Paris Opera in August, four years ahead of schedule and after just two seasons in the job, the company announced on Thursday.
Dudamel, 42, who also leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic and will take over as music and artistic director of the New York Philharmonic in 2026, said he was stepping down to spend more time with his family.
“It is with a heavy heart and after long consideration that I announce my resignation,” he said in a statement. “I have no plans other than to be with my loved ones, to whom I am deeply grateful for helping me to continue to be strong in my resolve to grow and remain challenged, both personally and artistically, each and every day.”
Dudamel’s two-year tenure will be one of the shortest in the Paris Opera’s recent history. His abrupt departure is unusual in the classical music industry, where conductors generally serve the duration of their contracts and seasons are typically planned years in advance. His resignation comes a few months after he made the surprise announcement that he would leave his post in Los Angeles, which he has held since 2009, for New York, when his contract expires at the end of the 2025-26 season.
Alexander Neef, the general director of the Paris Opera, praised Dudamel’s “special relationship” with the orchestra and said he respected his choice. He said in an interview that Dudamel had expressed concerns beginning in January about his ability to fulfill his duties, including devoting the time needed for the intense performance and rehearsal schedule that opera demands.
”In the end, he reached a conclusion that he could just not give to the institution what he believes the institution requires,” Neef said.
Over the past several months, Neef said proposed ways to keep Dudamel in Paris.
“I did not try to twist his arm,” Neef said. “We played with different scenarios and arrangements of the schedule. But in the end, he just felt it was not sufficient for him to be able to own the title.”
Dudamel’s representatives said on Thursday that he was unavailable for an interview.
The opera house and Dudamel are still discussing what to do about his planned engagements for the 2023-24 season. He had been scheduled to lead a new production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and the Paris premiere of “The Exterminating Angel” by Thomas Adès, as well as several concerts with the orchestra.
Dudamel’s departure creates the possibility that he might deepen his commitment to the New York Philharmonic earlier than expected. Because of scheduling conflicts, he had not been planning to have much of a presence in New York until the 2026-27 season. Dudamel, who led the orchestra in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony last week, has no engagements in New York next season.
Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive, who helped start Dudamel’s career in Los Angeles nearly two decades ago and persuaded him to take the job in New York, said she hoped he would now be able to spend more time with the orchestra starting next season but that nothing had been discussed.
“He’s very clear that he doesn’t want to make that decision now,” she said in an interview.
When Dudamel took the New York job, some in the industry speculated that he was seeking to reduce his commute to Paris. But Borda said that Dudamel, who was born in Venezuela, had realized during the pandemic that he wanted to spend more time in Spain, which is now home to his wife, his 12-year-old son, his parents and his grandmother.
“No doubt he’ll take some criticism,” she said of his decision to resign. “But I think it’s a bold and important move.”
In Paris, Dudamel led high-profile productions of contemporary operas like John Adams’s “Nixon in China” and classics like Puccini’s “Turandot.” He appeared to be well regarded by the orchestra’s musicians and by Neef, though he sometimes earned mixed reviews from European critics. A production of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” that he conducted earlier this year made headlines when its soprano was booed.
The opera house also appears to be grappling with some financial pressures. Planned appearances by the Paris Opera orchestra in London and Vienna in April were abruptly canceled. The Barbican Center in London said it was “due to factors that are currently making touring financially challenging” for the ensemble.
His appointment in 2021, for an initial term of six seasons, was considered a coup for the company, founded in 1669 as the Académie d’Opéra by Louis XIV. It was an unlikely union, given Dudamel’s packed schedule and frequent commitments in Los Angeles. And while he had earned fame and accolades as a symphonic conductor, he had less experience in opera.
Dudamel said at the time that he felt chemistry with the Paris Opera after his company debut in 2017 with “La Bohème.”
“I felt this connection with the house, the musicians, the choir, with the whole team,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2021. “I was here for one month and a half and I was feeling like I was at home.”
The departure of Dudamel leaves the Paris Opera in a difficult position. Neef said that the orchestra would rely on guest conductors to help fill gaps in coming seasons, and that the company would soon begin a search for a permanent leader with “the goal of finding the best person rather than the most readily available.”
“We are strong enough to go through this period while we look for someone new,” he said.
The company informed its 175 musicians of Dudamel’s decision on Thursday. Neef said some had noticed a change in their relationship with Dudamel over the past few months and were relieved that there was now a resolution.
“They were expecting something to happen,” he said. “There’s disappointment and sadness, but it’s also a moment of relief to know what’s been going on.”