Nicole Paiement: Conductor of Modern Opera

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Nicole Paiement is one conductor not lacking for work in the opera circuit. Fresh from a run of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, staged by the Lyric Opera of Chicago last month, she moves on to our city to collaborate with the Opéra de Montréal in its January production of Written on Skin by George Benjamin. Next up for her are performances of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Poulenc’s La Voix humaine with the Dallas Opera from April 3 to 8.

With Opera Parallèle, her own company based in San Francisco, she will be at the podium for three consecutive performances in May of Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk. On the following day, May 18, she jets off to London for a month to prepare the BBC Symphony for the premiere of Joby Talbot’s opera Everest on June 20.

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Ten Years at the Helm

The current season of San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle is a special one for Paiement, because it marks the 10th anniversary of the organization. She is more than delighted by its successes, especially considering her preference for cutting-edge over traditional repertoire.

“It was my goal to create an ensemble outside of the mainstream, one devoted to lesser-known works of our time,” Paiement says. “My company came into being at a time when no other companies were committed to the cause. So we were ahead of the pack, pretty avant-garde if you will.”

She remembers well how it all started, with the premiere of Berg’s Wozzeck in a chamber setting orchestrated by John Rea. The production was so well received, as the conductor notes, that Opera Parallèle was off and running from that moment on. Since then, the company has staged a slew of new works ranging from Terrence Blanchard’s jazz opera Champion to Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov, Jonathan Dove’s comical Flight and the North American premiere of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness, not to overlook the aforementioned Dead Man Walking

Signs of Renewal

Paiement goes out of her way to extoll the benefits of working with living composers, one being their creative input into the process. From her own experience she has found inspiration in presenting works capable of drawing larger audiences closer to today’s music. Given her dual vocation as a contemporary opera and symphony orchestra conductor, she now enjoys a solid reputation on the international scene. She even counts her lucky stars to be part of a movement of renewal in contemporary music, one that can draw more public attention to the exploration of operatic forms and high-quality new works.

Written on Skin by George Benjamin, conducted by Nicole Paiement, will be presented by the Opéra de Montréal at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts from Jan. 6 to Feb. 1.

Translation by Marc Chénard

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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