Théâtre du Châtelet’s Innovative Programing Turns out Bigger Audiences

Jean-Luc Choplin has been presenting marvelous musical productions at Paris’s historic Théâtre du Châtelet since offering his first programs as general director of the theater in 2006.  A fan of American culture whose taste runs from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique to the Grateful Dead, he has increasingly offered international fare, exposing audiences to some of the most popular American musicals, including The Sound of Music, Sweeney Todd, and My Fair Lady,in English.

In the coming months, he plans on bringing Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s groundbreaking Einstein on the Beach, Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, John Adams’ A Flowering Tree, Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, and a theatrical version of the much beloved film, An American in Paris, to his stage. My Fair Lady will run from December 5-January 1, 2014.

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“To me, the beauty of the classical American musical relies on the fact that it has led to the creation of a popular opera,” he told French Morning. “French viewers are, of course, sensitive to the discovery of great scores they had never heard about so far. With this genre, they discover a light and smart entertainment.”

Since its inauguration in 1862, the Théâtre du Châtelet has welcomed many of the greatest composers and performers of their time, including Mahler, Grieg, Debussy, Pavlova and Nijinski. In recent years, however, the venue had largely been closed to innovation — that is, until Choplin took over. Musicals in English are just the tip of the iceberg: in the summer 2014 he will present the National Ballet of China, a tango musical, and the very first vocaloid opera, an original work interpreted by Japanese star and computer-generated character Miku Hatsune. His gamble on such eclectic programming is paying off: audiences at the 2,000-seat theater have almost doubled since Choplin began his tenure and the average age of ticket-buyers has decreased by ten years.

Choplin’s open-minded and openhearted philosophy grew out of long experience in the arts. As a child he played the flute and developed a strong love of music, and went on to direct the music festival at Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume in Provence in the early ‘70s. There, he presented composer John Cage, theater artist Robert Wilson and other artistic revolutionaries. He moved on to head the dance department at the Opéra Garnier before completely switching gears commissioning composers for Disneyland — first in Paris, and then Los Angeles. He was chief executive of Sadler’s Wells, London’s world-famous dance venue, for four years before coming to the Théâtre du Châtelet. Today, he brings all his passions together in his hometown, much to the delight of his growing number of Parisian fans.