Jean-Marie Zeitouni: in the service of creation

Actualités lyriques

By Communications et marketing

January 30, 2024

Text: Véronique Gauthier

Photos: Vivien Gaumand & Tam Lan Truong

After conducting La Beauté du monde in November 2022, maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni is poised to regale Opéra de Montréal spectators with yet another opus by the Bilodeau-Bouchard duo, La Reine-garçon. In this monumental work that grapples with emotion, duty, and philosophy, Christina, that queen of Sweden raised as a boy, finds herself torn between her fate and what drives her.


As his impressive track record would indicate, Jean-Marie Zeitouni has regularly stood at the helm of opera classics, from La Bohème to Don Giovanni, not forgetting Lucia di Lammermoor. How is it different to conduct the premiere of a new work?

“The countless times I have found myself at the drawing board with scores by Massenet, Mozart, Rossini, wondering, ‘what did the composer mean to convey, exactly?’ It’s a privilege to be able to actually have these conversations. With Julien [Bilodeau], it was easy; we would call each other and talk. It’s a thousand times more rewarding. And a thousand times more consuming too.”


It is especially consuming, he feels, because bringing the dense and demanding score of La Reine-garçon to an audience’s ears comes with great responsibility. “When giving a premiere, I try to do everything possible so that the performers can play and sing with the same sense of security and the same peace of mind they would have when performing it for the second or third time. So that it’s fully embodied and we can probe the depths of the work and convey its different layers. That requires a lot of preparatory work on my part.”

A responsibility to the artists, to be sure, but also to audiences. “I feel extremely privileged because I know that La Reine-garçon is an important work. It’s a bit like having good news that is earmarked for me to announce to everyone! And I take the responsibility of ensuring that an audience can appreciate its true value and wants to say, ‘I was there, that time.’ It’s a responsibility I embrace with joy and a great sense of duty.”


While this production marks Jean-Marie Zeitouni’s second opera collaboration with composer Julien Bilodeau, make no mistake: the two artists have often worked side by side over the past several years. This will be their seventh premiere project together, orchestral music and opera combined.

“Julien is a master composer. We know each other well and a lot of his character is reflected in his music, his humour, for example. He has a strong and distinctive musical personality; I recognize his language and I understand his music. I have always felt that he needed large-scale forms to express himself to his full potential, and opera gives him all the necessary space to develop his ideas.”

Jean-Marie became involved very early on in the creative process, taking on the role of an advisor to the composer. “We have had many working sessions over the past few years. Julien consults me when he encounters a problem, a challenge, or if he has an inquiry. I reflect with him and help him to bridge the gap between his ideas and their concrete expression, drawing on my experience and knowledge of the orchestra, of various instruments, and of the voice. I am at his service.”


Jean-Marie Zeitouni proclaims it loud and clear: opera is the medium that yields the most exquisite pieces of music ever written by composers who gave themselves over to the genre. And although he shines as a conductor of symphonic works, he could never fathom giving up opera.

“Since, in my opinion, the human voice is the most beautiful instrument, and since I have a natural affinity for theatre, opera is a treat to conduct. The conductor’s role is even more crucial than in a symphony concert. There are so many ingredients to hold together, I feel I am truly valuable, helpful, when I am there. That said, at the end of the night, the soloists are the true stars, and that’s just fine with me!” he added, this conductor not being especially eager for the limelight.


Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni is not short on praise for the Opéra de Montréal, with which he shares a 21-year history. Before conducting some of its major productions, he worked variously as a choir director, assistant conductor, and Music Director of the Atelier lyrique.

“I cannot but commend their utter commitment to creativity. Here, there is a loyalty to and constancy in its artistic and humanistic approach that I can only admire. This shines through in the resources and energy made available to artists, and in the casts that include several former members of the Atelier lyrique, such as Étienne Dupuis, Alain Coulombe, and Éric Laporte.”

This coming February 3, 6, 8, and 11, Jean-Marie Zeitouni invites us to experience an important piece of Quebec’s operatic history: a girl-king comes to life, thanks to an extraordinary creative team and outstanding performers. To purchase your tickets, click here.