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Toronto-based German to lead Paris Opera

Choreographer Benjamin Millepied (R), Stephane Lissner (L), Director of the Paris Opera, and former French ballet dancer Aurelie Dupont, pose before a news conference at the Palais Garnier in Paris, France, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

The French government has chosen the German head of the Canadian Opera Company to head the prestigious Paris Opera, the presidency said Wednesday, drawing the curtain on a tortuous selection process that lasted almost a year.

Alexander Neef, who has led the Toronto-based Canadian company since 2008, will take up his post in 2021, giving the Paris Opera's current general director Stephane Lissner two more seasons at the helm.

Sources said President Emmanuel Macron, a keen classical music lover, was personally involved in the process to choose a successor to Lissner.

"The incoming director will have 24 months to prepare his programming. This transition period was part of the president's thinking," said a presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Lissner, who has been in place since 2014, is credited with bringing world-class stage directors and singers to the Paris Opera and also spearheading efforts to make the 350-year-old institution more accessible.

But Neef, 45, who was casting director at the Paris Opera from 2004-2008, should also be a breath of fresh air and has a reputation for bold programming and attracting new audiences in Toronto.

There had been considerable discussion about the selection over the last year, with several candidates mooted, as well as the possibility of Lissner carrying on.

While the house has seen artistic successes in opera, Neef will have to give reassurances to the ballet company.

The ballet troupe has been shaken by the sudden departure of its former chief Benjamin Millepied in 2016 and a leaked poll of dancers criticising a lack of dialogue under new head and star ballerina Aurelie Dupont.