Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (19 February 1932 – 11 August 1988) was a noted French opera director.


Ponnelle was born in Paris. He studied philosophy, art, and history there and, in 1952, began his career in Germany as a theatre designer for Hans Werner Henze's opera Boulevard Solitude. He was greatly influenced by the work of art director Georges Wakhévitch who also designed sets and costumes for the theatre, the ballet, and the opera.

In 1962, Ponnelle directed his first production of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in Düsseldorf. His production of that opera at the Bayreuth Festival in 1981 was widely praised as one of the most aesthetically beautiful in its history.

His work throughout the world included stage productions at the Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera; productions for television (a Madama Butterfly in 1974 notable for performances by Mirella Freni and the young Plácido Domingo); and filmed versions of operas such as the well-known Karl Böhm-conducted The Marriage of Figaro. His 1969 production of Mozart's then neglected La Clemenza di Tito for Cologne helped re-establish this work in the repertory. Ponnelle also was a frequent guest at the Salzburg Festival.[1]

Often, his productions were controversial. His 1986 Aida at Covent Garden, in which he replaced the usual ballet dancers with young boys, was soundly booed and never revived, though his earlier Don Pasquale at the same theatre had been a triumph,[2] as were his interpretations of well-known works. [3][4]

He died in Munich, Germany in 1988 of a pulmonary embolism following a tragic fall into the orchestra pit during rehearsals for a production of Carmen with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. His son is the orchestra conductor Pierre-Dominique Ponnelle and his nephew is Jean Pierre Danel.

Video recordings

Catherine Malfitano in Traviata, 1980.


  1. Salzbug Festival website (in English) Retrieved 3 January 2009
  2. Pfaff, San Francisco Chronicle: "Welcome as it may be to find Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's infamous 1975 Eurotrash production of the work, presented as "The Steersman's Dream", (which held the War Memorial stage for three of the company's five presentations of the piece) banished, presumably forever, it can still be a strain to discern Dutchman.
  3. Porter, Andrew, The Times: "Only in recent years have directors taken it upon themselves to rewrite Wagner's stage actions, to intervene, to move from simplification to new invention. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's idea at Bayreuth, in 1981, was that Isolde should not appear in Act Three but be an off-stage voice sounding in Tristan's mind"
  4. Chatfield-Taylor, p. 63: "Some critics felt that there was...perversity in Ponnelle's conception of (Rigoletto) as a flashback that begins with Gilda already dead, lying on the floor during the Prelude".

External links

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