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Artistic Director Jonathan Pell Will Step Down At Dallas Opera

by Jerome Weeks 22 Apr 2014 9:42 AM

After 30 years there in various roles — and working on 97 operas — he’ll become an artistic advisor.


Jonathan-Pell-in-DallasJonathan Pell joined the Dallas Opera in 1985 as artistic administrator and was appointed artistic director in 2009 — only the second to hold that post in the company’s history. He will no longer be working full-time beginning this December but will continue to contribute to the company.  He helped move the company from Fair Park to the Winspear Opera House, worked on 162 productions of 97 operas for the Dallas Opera, and singers who debuted with company – at Pell’s invitation – include Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Ben Heppner and Denyce Graves.

The full release:



Stepping Down From Full-Time Work, Mr. Pell Will Serve

As TDO Artistic Advisor Beginning in January 2015


DALLAS, APRIL 22, 2014 – The Dallas Opera announced today that Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, having completed 30 years of service, has asked to step down from full-time work for the company as of December 31, 2014. At the company’s request, he will remain on as Artistic Advisor to provide artistic continuity and expertise for the next several seasons, working with General Director and CEO Keith Cerny and Music Director Emmanuel Villaume.

Mr. Pell came to The Dallas Opera in 1985 from WNET/Thirteen in New York, where he was Coordinating Producer for Music Programming and worked on such public television projects as The Life of Verdi series hosted by Burt Lancaster and the historic telecast of the complete Chereau Ring Cycle from Bayreuth for Great Performances. He was also a member of the original production team for PBS Gala of Stars, an annual program (1980-86) celebrating “the best and brightest” vocal artists in classical music, hosted by the incomparable Beverly Sills. Before joining WNET, Mr. Pell was active in concert and opera management for several years; representing an international roster of singers, conductors and stage directors.


Mr. Pell joined The Dallas Opera as Artistic Administrator in 1985. He was later promoted to Director of Artistic Administration and was appointed Artistic Director of the Dallas Opera in 2009 – only the second Artistic Director in the 57-year history of the company.

Notable singing artists who debuted with the company at his invitation include Cecilia Bartoli, Ben Heppner, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Jerry Hadley, James Morris, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson and Carol Vaness.

Notable TDO projects during Mr. Pell’s years include four critically acclaimed productions of works by Leos Janácek and two by Tchaikovsky; the Ring Cycle (produced between 1999-2002); the 1989 American Farewell to Dame Joan Sutherland in The Merry Widow; the Francesca Zambello production of Britten’s Billy Budd; “Festival de Falla” and three world premieres: Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers in 1988, Tobias Picker’s Thérèse Raquin in 2001 and most recently, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick in 2010.

In his decades in the opera field, Mr. Pell has identified many outstanding singers, often before they became well-known names. Several of the singers he recruited for the Dallas Opera Chorus went on to have major careers as principal artists, including Jay Hunter Morris and Clifton Forbis. Mr. Pell has also served for many years as Artistic Advisor and Chair of the Panel of Judges for the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. Past winners of the competition who have gone on to major careers include Latonia Moore, Erin Wall, Mary Dunleavy, Marjorie Owens, David Portillo and Weston Hurt.

He has also served as a distinguished adjudicator at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the Luciano Pavarotti Competition, the George London Grants and many more. From 1999 until 2009, Mr. Pell chaired the Richard Tucker Music Foundation’s national auditions committee. He also served for a decade on the board of the prestigious ARIA Awards.


Mr. Pell explained, “I have been thinking about this for quite some time. As of December 31, 2014, I will have completed thirty years with the company and feel that now is the moment to step down and do some of the other things that I have long wanted to do but for which I never had the time.

“With the leadership of Keith Cerny as General Director and CEO, now entering his fifth year, and the appointment last year of Emmanuel Villaume as Music Director, I am confident that the company is in excellent hands.

“As Artistic Advisor, I will still be able to contribute to the company that I love and to which I have dedicated so much of my professional life. After having been instrumental in bringing 162 productions of 97 different operas – including four commissioned works – to the stages of the Music Hall and the Winspear Opera House, it is time to do other things. I have attended almost 600 performances at the Dallas Opera, as well as thousands of rehearsals. I am very proud of what I have accomplished here, but now look forward to being involved in other worthwhile projects.”


In 2010, Jonathan Pell was honored with an Opera America Service Award for his 25 years of leadership in the field. The following year, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Opera Association.


As General Director and CEO Keith Cerny noted, “Jonathan recently approached me to discuss his future plans and it gave us both the opportunity to reflect on his legacy. In my extensive artistic planning work with Jonathan, I have been struck by his encyclopedic knowledge of singers and artists, as well as his exhaustive knowledge of the operatic repertoire. Since joining The Dallas Opera in May 2010, I have been very impressed by several productions programmed and cast prior to my arrival, most notably Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, which was presented in 2011, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in 2012, and the 25th Anniversary revival of Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers in 2013.”


“Jonathan is a longtime personal friend and colleague,” said Dallas Opera Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, “with a deeply felt passion for the art form. He is immensely respected in the opera world and I believe he will continue to play an influential role in discovering and nurturing up-and-coming artists in our field—a process I will watch with great interest.”


Board Chair of The Dallas Opera, T. Peter Townsend stated, “On behalf of everyone at The Dallas Opera, I want to thank Jonathan for his exemplary work over the past three decades, including his input on crucial decisions regarding the design and construction of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. I’m certain that he will continue to make valuable contributions to the artistic process at TDO in his ongoing role as company Artistic Advisor.”


Former Board Chair, Dr. Kern Wildenthal agreed: “Jonathan is well-known throughout the opera field as a truly outstanding judge of vocal talent. He has identified many singers in the course of his distinguished career who have performed or debuted in Dallas before going on to enjoy major international careers. It has been a great personal pleasure to know and work with him for many years as a member of the Board of Directors of The Dallas Opera.”


Mr. Pell will transition from full-time employment to the role of Artistic Advisor to the company as of January 1, 2015. He will remain in this role until the end of the 2016-2017 Season.