Hugues R. Gall has left us

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Hugues R. Gall with his slightly ironical smile

Born on March 18, 1940 in Honfleur from a Norman mother and a Bavarian father, Hugues R. Gall died in his sleep on May 25, in Nice, where he lived with dancer Eric Vu-An, who died exactly two weeks later. After studying at Sciences Po and completing a B.A. in German at the Sorbonne, his first professional steps were at Edgar Faure’s cabinet where he developed the teaching of music and the  arts for the baccalauréat and later at the University of Vincennes. Before working with Rolf Liebermann at the Paris Opera, he was secretary general of the Réunion des Théâtres Lyriques Nationaux in 1969, a first step in the career of running the Grand Théâtre de Genève (1980-1995) and the Paris Opera (until 2004), where he commissioned eighty new lyric productions and introduced sixty new ballets. He ended his professional career as an active member of Académie des Beaux arts and ran the House and gardens of Claude Monet in Giverny which received 760 000 visitors in 2023. He was adored by the gardeners and staff  who paid him a special tribute last Thursday, June 13, when he was buried in the cemetery of the Norman town.

Simple garden flowers with fern were brought to Eglise Saint Roch by the gardeners of Giverny, photo Gilles Kraemer

But Hugues Gall was mostly a faithful friend as William Christie (also a member of Académie des Beaux Arts) and Czech choreographer Jirí Kylian reminded us at his funeral in Eglise Saint Roch. “He was expert in the art of conversation, a very French sports”, said an emotional Christie who thanked him for introducing Baroque music into Opera Garnier. There, the American born French citizen, created Rameau’s “Hippolyte et Aricie” in 1996 with Jean Marie Villégier and later his famous “Alcina” by Haendel with Robert Carsen among many more huge successes. “I will better express my love for you with music later” he said alluding to the piece he would conduct by Jean Philippe Rameau from les “Indes Galantes”, sung by baryon bass Gordon Bintner with a quartet of singers, Théotime Langlois de Swarte at the violin and himself at the “orgue positif”.

The gardens of Giverny in the spring

After Kylian’s very affectionate speech on the importance of Gall’s role in developing the performing arts, Christian de Pange, his secrétaire général at the Paris Opera, gave a hilarious rendering of his famous sentences. Following the words of Edgar Faure, his first mentor “To always be right is a great fault” , Hugues Gall would quote sentences at the management meetings, which Pange noted with great application. “If we try to negotiate in an ambiguous way, we will end up in a huge mess (bordel)”, “We will never finish mending the social fabric”, “Instead of taking a good Swiss elevator, we have used an old Roux-Combaluzier embellished by internal cheaters”… Very hard to translate these brilliant aphorisms. But everyone smiled in the audience.

In the courtyard of the Institut with artist printer Astrid de la Forest who was named at the Académie des Beaux Arts in 2016

The priest, Abbé Laurent Chauvin, aumônier des artistes, reminded us that Hugues Gall had wanted to establish the presence of a priest at the Paris Opera to help all the artists in their difficult times. It did not happen but his faith was strong. Gall was a convinced civil servant but also a passionate European and he pleaded for the importance of opera as a mediator for all countries, even today. “Opera speaks of passion and dramas in society, magnified by musical alchemy” he declared in 1996, when he received the Prix Montaigne. The assembly in church was extraordinarily amicable and even though there were many former ministers who knew him personally, what mattered most was music and friendship.

Hugues Gall wearing his impeccable Charvet tie

Lucas Debargue was extraordinary at the piano when he played Franz Schubert/ Franz Liszt’s “Ständchen”,  François-Joseph Olivier introduced the mass with Mozart’s  “Organ Fantaisie” and ended it with Bach’s “Pascaille and Fugue”. There were more Brahms, and Pergola’s Stabat Mater to conclude a perfect list of areas.

For someone who had been invited everywhere for fifty years, the atmosphere was extremely affectionate and not social, with front rows including his closest friends. The foremost, Olimpia Weiller, who was invited to light the candles with a recent friend of his, Martine Kahane who worked at the Paris opera for several decades and created the Centre national du costume de Scène in Moulins, Brigitte Lefèvre, who ran the ballet from 1995 to 2014 and Gérard Fontaine his oldest and closest companion. They all lost a soulmate and a mentor.

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