If you think about it, opera has it all: beautiful music, compelling storylines and, very often, elaborate stage art. Just ask Julia Noulin-Merat.
“For me it’s like the Olympics of all art forms,” said Noulin-Merat, who until recently was Associate Producer of the Boston Lyric Opera and Co-Art Director of the Guerrilla Opera, also in Boston.
“You really have all the arts together,” she said.
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Central Ohio is about to find out how passionate Noulin-Merat is for the art form: on Sunday she was announced as the new general manager and CEO of Opera Columbus.
Who is Julia Noulin-Merat?
The 39-year-old Canadian resigned to head Virginia Opera in October after an extensive search for a replacement for Peggy Kriha Dye, who after nearly a decade of tenure marked by innovative programming and a new influx of vocal talent.
More than 30 candidates applied for the position, from which about 10 finalists were selected by a four-person search committee, said CEO Bill Miller.
Noulin-Merat, who had seen and impressed the 2018 Opera Columbus production of Orphee et Eurydice, contacted the group before the search officially began.
“When I saw the production, I said, ‘This is opera – it’s innovative, it’s exciting,” said Noulin-Merat, who reached out to the organization before the official search began.
“I said, ‘I know you don’t know me, but here is my résumé. I’ve always been inspired by this company, ”she said.
From the perspective of Opera Columbus, Noulin-Merat stood out not only because of her experience, having worked on 25 world premieres during her time in Boston, but also because of her homework.
“Your mere investment and the clear amount of time you invested in understanding not only our organization but our community – it blew us all,” said Miller.
Noulin-Merat was born in Montreal to parents who worked in the pharmaceutical industry. She spent her childhood in Canada and Paris.
“I actually have three passports: I have an American, a Canadian and a French,” she said.
Although she doesn’t have a performing background, Noulin-Merat decided as a student that one day she wanted to oversee an opera company.
“My way of doing art is making the shows possible,” she said.
After majoring in theater design at Concordia University in Montreal, Noulin-Merat received two masters degrees from Boston University – one in scenic design and a second in arts management.
The Opera Columbus position brings artistic and managerial responsibilities together in a single job, a structure Noulin-Merat is familiar with from her positions with the Boston Opera Company.
“Actually, everything overlapped for both companies – from development to fundraising and contracts to visiting composers,” she said. “What I loved about both jobs was that I met an incredible number of people (the ones) that I am really looking forward to connecting with Opera Columbus.”
Noulin-Merat comes to Opera Columbus at a uniquely challenging time in the organization’s 39-year history: due to the coronavirus pandemic, the group has not given any personal concerts for almost a year. Live concerts are planned for the end of April and May.
“We are all itching to see live performances together,” said Noulin-Merat, who is thinking about safe ways to present shows this spring.
However, the new chairman is optimistic that the fall season – the organization’s 40th – is expected to begin in October.
“What’s in the works right now is a truly city-wide 40th anniversary celebration,” said Noulin-Merat, who envisions appearances at the group’s usual home base, the Southern Theater, as well as other venues in non-traditional venues.
“I’m very interested in not just doing operas in the theater, but bringing opera to Columbus – so that Columbus becomes our venue,” she said.
Noulin-Merat, who will soon be moving to German Village with her fiancé, is looking forward to exploring her new hometown – and not just the art scene.
“I haven’t been there yet,” she said, “if there’s a football game.”