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Julia Noulin-Merat is Helping Redefine Opera in Columbus

By Kelsi Moore, marketing manager for Opera Columbus

Julia Noulin-Merat is the general director and CEO of Opera Columbus and an international set designer. We talked with her about her background, inspirations and work in the field.

Kelsi: What is your artistic background?
Julia: I have a MFA in set design and MBA of arts administration from Boston University; I am both a set designer and a creative director of opera. I have worked on over 400 opera, theater and television productions, including 25 new operas, 22 new plays. I grew up in Montreal and Paris and have three passports! English is my second language, which I didn’t master until I was 18. All of which has contributed to my artistic background as I love traveling and meeting new people.

Kelsi: What made you want to become an artist?
Julia: Growing up, I was surrounded by the arts. I can still remember my first opera — I went to see Bluebeard’s Castle with my parents when I was four years old. We read the fairytale and then saw the show. Opera felt like the ultimate spectacle engaging all my senses. Since then, I have continued to attend operas, and began actively pursuing it in college.

Kelsi: What is something you wish more people knew about opera?
Julia: I wish people knew how opera is a genre and not this old notion of a boring performance. There are many versions and formats. For example, Opera Columbus just did an immersive opera at Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus Downtown. It’s just like how movies have romantic comedies, horror and action — opera is the same way. It is my mission for people to understand this and share my love for it.

Kelsi: What inspires you?
Julia: Undoubtedly the artists around me! I love the performing arts because of how collaborative it is. When everyone is working together towards a common goal; it is extremely rewarding and inspiring.

I also believe that the performing arts is the best way to have conversations with the community. People will see a show, and then have the opportunity to reflect on their lives and humanity at large. That is truly inspiring to see and it energizes me.

Opera Columbus’ Tosca; scenery designed by Noulin-Merat

Kelsi: What is your artistic process?
Julia: My process always begins with the piece: what is the music? What is the libretto saying? Who are we telling this story to? I love to do research, and dig into what the piece is about and how it resonates with our world today. I have conversations with the directors and designers to understand their vision for the piece. Then, we add the element of singers and must be responsive to how they have interpreted the piece as well. I am very inspired by my fellow artists and creating the visual language of the show.

Kelsi: How are you involved with Opera Columbus?
Julia: I am the general director and CEO of Opera Columbus, BUT I also design shows. For example, I was the designer for Tosca this past December. I love how I can collaborate with artists and designers on the business side of things through OC, but also I am approaching it from the creative side.

Kelsi: I heard you are a “foodie.” What is your favorite restaurant in Columbus?
Julia: I live in German Village, I have been very lucky to explore all of the restaurants in the neighborhood. My favorite restaurant is Barcelona. I love the ambiance and the Spanish food is incredible. It truly transports me into Barcelona — it’s been amazing with all the traveling restrictions this past year! Whenever I do not have a show, I love to go there on the weekends and get their paella.

Kelsi: What is your favorite thing about Columbus?
Julia: One of the reasons I moved to Columbus was for its creative energy and also because I was drawn by how incredibly innovative Opera Columbus is. All of the arts organizations truly love to collaborate together. Something I take pride in is how well this city highlights young artists and emerging talent. For example, Opera Columbus launched the CRANE Directing Fellowship, we host the annual Cooper-Bing Vocal Competition and also work with emerging young artists to perform in our operas. I am not only seeing this at Opera Columbus but across the city, which is very exciting!

This article is brought to you by Art Makes Columbus/Columbus Makes Art, an initiative of the Greater Columbus Arts Council to raise the visibility of Columbus-based artists. Learn more at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

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