Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

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Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle Strasbourg 1980.jpg
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle in Strasbourg, 1980
Born(1932-02-29)29 February 1932
Paris, France
Died11 August 1988(1988-08-11) (aged 56)
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
  • Opera director
  • Scenic designer
  • Costume designer
Spouse(s)Margit Saad (1957-1988)

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (19 February 1932 – 11 August 1988) was a French opera director, set and costume designer.


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 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 Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in Düsseldorf. His production of that work 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 (Puccini's Madama Butterfly in 1974 notable for performances by Mirella Freni and the young Plácido Domingo); and filmed versions of operas such as Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro conducted by Karl Böhm. His 1969 production of Mozart's then neglected La Clemenza di Tito for the Cologne Opera helped re-establish this work in the repertory. Ponnelle also was a frequent guest at the Salzburg Festival.[1]

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

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

Video recordings[edit]


  1. ^ Salzburg 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. 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".


  • Kristina Bendikas, The Opera Theatre of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Lewiston/NY (E. Mellen Press) 2004.
  • Max W. Busch & Margit Saad-Ponnelle, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, 400 p, env. 350 photos n/b & couleurs, Henschel Verlag, Berlin 2008. ISBN 3894874147ISBN 978-3894874148
  • Vera Lùcia Calabria, Jean-Pierre Ponelle und die Kamera. Anmerkungen zu Ponnelles Umgang mit den Medien, in: Jürgen Kühnel/Ulrich Müller/Oswald Panagl (eds.), Das Musiktheater in den audiovisuellen Medien. »...ersichtlich gewordenen Taten der Musik...«, Anif/Salzburg (Müller-Speiser) 2001, pp. 276–294.
  • Chatfield-Taylor, Joan, San Francisco Opera: The First 75 Years, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997, ISBN 0-8118-1368-1
  • Imre Fabian, Imre Fabian im Gespräch mit Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Zürich/Schwäbisch Hall (Orell Füssli) 1983.
  • Kii-Ming Lo, Der Opernfilm als Erweiterung der Bühne. Versuch einer Theorie anhand von Jean-Pierre Ponnelles »Rigoletto«, in: Jürgen Kühnel/Ulrich Müller/Oswald Panagl (eds.), Das Musiktheater in den audiovisuellen Medien. »...ersichtlich gewordenen Taten der Musik...«, Anif/Salzburg (Müller-Speiser) 2001, pp. 264–275.
  • Kii-Ming Lo, Die filmische Umsetzung der Ouvertüren von Mozarts Opern durch Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, in: Jürgen Kühnel/Ulrich Müller/Oswald Panagl (eds.), »Regietheater« ─ Konzeption und Praxis am Beispiel der Bühnenwerke Mozarts, Anif/Salzburg (Müller-Speiser) 2007, pp. 364–375.
  • Kii-Ming Lo, Ein desillusionierter Traum von Amerika: Jean-Pierre Ponnelles Opern-Film »Madama Butterfly«, in: Sieghart Döhring/Stefanie Rauch (eds..), Musiktheater im Fokus, Sinzig (Studio Punkt Verlag) 2014, pp. 219–236.
  • Kii-Ming Lo, Sehen, Hören und Begreifen: Jean-Pierre Ponnelles Verfilmung der »Carmina Burana« von Carl Orff, in: Thomas Rösch (ed.), Text, Musik, Szene ─ Das Musiktheater von Carl Orff, Mainz etc. (Schott) 2015, pp. 147–173.
  • Kii-Ming Lo, »Im Dunkel du, im Lichte ich!« ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelles Bayreuther Inszenierung von »Tristan und Isolde«, in: Naomi Matsumoto et al. (eds.), The Staging of Verdi & Wagner Operas, Turnhout (Brepols) 2015, pp. 307–321.
  • Various authors (ed.), Ponnelle in München, 1952–1988, Exhibition catalogue of the Bavarian State Opera, München (Bayerische Staatsoper) 1991.

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