Alfonso Ciulla Directeur Artistique SBM

Alfonso Ciulla: Live music in Monaco, a story of sharing and proximity

Published on June 05, 2024Updated on June 07, 2024

Monaco has always wanted culture to reflect its image: lively and exciting! Alfonso Ciulla, the new artistic director of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, is determined to keep up the pace by continuing to make the Principality the land of exception and of choice for the biggest international stars. He shares his first impressions with us, as well as his artistic visions for the future of live music in the effervescent City-State.

Monegasque cultural life, and the performing arts in particular, is a world you know well...

Alfonso Ciulla: I spent 23 years as artistic director of the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. So I was already well acquainted with the various artistic directors of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. Bernard Lion, Jean-René Palacio, Jacques Provence and Gilles Marsan... We knew each other well. So when I was given the opportunity to take over their work at the Resort, I didn't hesitate for a second. It's certainly a big change of scene, but let's just say that I've mastered the rudiments of the job quite well [laughs]. Except perhaps at the Grimaldi Forum, the approach is purely cultural, like its annual exhibition. At Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, however, there is much more room for live music and entertainment.

Hall du Grimaldi Forum Monaco

How do you feel about this new challenge?

Alfonso Ciulla: The six months I spent working with Gilles Marsan gave me the opportunity to familiarise myself with the working methods specific to the Resort's artistic direction. But also to get to know the teams, some forty people, including the technical and administrative teams. Although the methodology for organising a concert is the same everywhere, it was a question of finding my place within this process and methodology so that I could bring my own vision to bear. But I'm more in favour of collaborative management. I'm not really a fan of vertical management, but rather of mutual and shared exchanges. I appreciate the fact that we take initiatives and consult each other. If a sound or lighting engineer comes to me with ideas, I'll take them! That's how I'm used to working. It seems to me that it’s a much more rewarding approach for everyone.

Alfonso Ciulla et Gilles Marsan

What did Gilles Marsan have to say about you and how are you going to negotiate this succession?

Alfonso Ciulla: Gilles Marsan and I know the business well. So it all came very naturally. For the rest, it will be "change with continuity", as the saying goes. More seriously, each artistic direction tries toexpress its own sensibility, but there are things you can't or don't want to change.


 © La Gazette de Monaco

"Each artistic direction tries to express its own sensibility...".
Gilles Marsan ancien Directeur Artistique de la SBM

What's on your mind?

Alfonso Ciulla: The Monte-Carlo Summer Festival dinner-concert, for example. This dinner and show in the Salle des Étoiles at the Sporting Monte-Carlo is the very DNA of the festival. And while some artists are still wary of the idea of performing in front of a seated audience, there are many others, even among the younger generation, who take real pleasure in coming to play on the stage of this legendary venue and in this very special context. It's a unique concept! We can't touch that DNA. When you imagine that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and co. have all passed through here, you have to respect the historic aura of this venue. Like the Olympia in Paris and the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Salle des Étoiles is one of the world's most famous stages. Artists know it, they talk about it! It's a timeless place that has stood the test of time with style and elegance.

Concert Robbie Williams Monte-Carlo Summer Festival – Monaco

So how do you stand out as an artistic director?

Alfonso Ciulla: You can always introduce a little novelty, but you have to do it in small steps. For example, this year we'll be programming a stand-up show, as well as a duo of concerts by Lenny Kravitz... get ready! It's quite a gamble, as the Salle des Étoiles, once emptied of its tables and chairs, still has a capacity of 1500 people per evening to fill. These are risks, of course, but if you don't take risks, you can't move forward. And I think it's about trying to juggle genres, sensibilities and audiences. The Monte-Carlo Summer Festival is an intergenerational show. With someone like Lenny Kravitz, you reach a very wide audience. He's not just a rock star, he's also an actor and a fashion icon. With Jorja Smith, it's already more cutting-edge. And we'll have an even different audience for Duran Duran.

Feu d'artifice sporting Monte-Carlo Summer Festival

And what about the other musical mainstay of the season, the Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival in November?

Alfonso Ciulla: After the Salle des Étoiles, we move on to the Opéra Garnier Monte-Carlo, a venue just as full of history and energy! It's just that the approach of the Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival is perhaps a little simpler. You have a genre to respect, even if jazz has this versatile side, drawing on everything around it. So it's not hard to build bridges to pop, rock or even electro. That's what makes this genre so appealing. But once again, the elegance of this festival is a fine showcase for the artistic energy of the Principality. I've never seen a performer walk off that opera stage without their eyes filled with stars, and it's always a pleasure to bring them along, even when they're in a place that they’re not used to. On 15 June 2024, outside of the festival dates, we'll be welcoming the group Air for an exceptional concert. It's typically a mix that I love. They will follow in the footsteps of the Indian artist Anoushka Shankar, who honoured us with her presence last April.

Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival Monaco

What else is new for the Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival?

AAlfonso Ciulla: For two years now, we've been organising befores and afters at the Café de la Rotonde, in the heart of theAtrium of the Opéra Garnier Monte-Carlo. It's a great way to extend the musical experience. And on the programming side, we're working with co-programmer Reno Di Matteo. Together, we try to put together a line-up of artists that match, from support acts to headliners. It's a real pleasure to blend our sensibilities and get away from the pure and simple 'jazz' spectrum. So this year we've got a great line-up, with 100% jazz artists and a few flashbacks to pop, jazz... It will be very varied. We still have to finalise our plans, but we would like to put on a film concert.

Casino de Monte-Carlo - Café de La Rotonde - 2019
Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival Monaco

Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer also offers a wide range of events in all its establishments...

Alfonso Ciulla: Yes, and that represents a colossal amount of work that people don't always realise. Over the course of a season, all events combined, no fewer than 750 shows and live concerts are organised in the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer establishments. It's phenomenal! On a day-to-day basis, our teams look for artists, organise their visits and put in place the necessary logistics... These range fromprivate birthday parties to spectacular festival shows, musical entertainment at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, in the Salle Empire at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, and various evening events organised in the Resort's lounge bars. All in all, there's always live entertainment in the Principality. It's hard to say, but I think it's important to emphasise that this uninterrupted flow of music is fed and managed all year round by the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer's artistic management teams. It's pretty crazy!

événement musical Monaco

What about the new venues opening their doors this year, such as the Amazónico Monte-Carlo and the New Moods: are there any new highlights in store?

Alfonso Ciulla: The Amazónico Monte-Carlo is a special case in that it has its own artistic direction. The specifics of their musical concept demand a truly bespoke artistic director. On the other hand, it's up to us to make proposals and support them. New Moods, on the other hand, is 100% within our scope. And the challenge will be to give it its own identity so that it doesn't "disrupt" the other areas. It will take over in the post-season, from October to around March, from Thursday to Saturday. It's important to make this clear: this is a concert hall, not a bar or restaurant where you can listen to music. You'll mainly find rock, blues, folk, funk, R'n'B and world music. We'll also be organising a few comedy club-style stand-ups. All in all, I see the New Moods as an old-fashioned club where you can enjoy finger food prepared by Marcel Ravin !

Amazonico Monte-Carlo

What does the word live mean to you?

Alfonso Ciulla: Above all, it's about being close to the artists and the music. Something we tend to lose sight of in these huge halls, these immense arenas where the audience is kept at a great distance from the artists and where the spectacular sometimes takes precedence over the visual and acoustic quality. Whether in the Salle des Étoiles, theOpéra Garnier Monte-Carlo or the New Moods, you are always in communion with the artists, and always with optimum sound quality for the most immersive live experience possible. This exchange that I encourage in my work is something that I would like to see in Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer's live events too.

Discover the programme of concerts and shows in Monaco

Concert MIKA Monte-Carlo Summer Festival 2023

What do the international stars have to say about Monaco, artistically speaking?

Alfonso Ciulla: Nothing but good! But over and above the artistic aspect, I think it's above all the general aura that emanates from this incredible city-state and its unrivalled glamour and elegance. That's because of its history, that of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, its establishments and the colourful personalities who have stayed there.


Do you think the arts are part of the DNA of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer?

Alfonso Ciulla: Absolutely. Alongside the games, the development of the arts and culture in general has always been part of the vocation of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. From music and dance to painting and literature. Culture flows through the streets of Monaco.

F(ê)aites de la Danse
Vue Principauté de Monaco

What's the most inspiring place in Monaco for you?

Alfonso Ciulla: Here again, I would say Monaco in its entirety. The size of this city-state seems to me to be inversely proportional to its cultural activity and creativity. The whole city is inspiring. For example, I recently rediscovered the Fontvieille district! Each place is a concentration of energy and memories.

"The whole city is inspiring."

As the passionate vinyl and CD collector that you are, what's your top 3?


That's a tough question! But on the vinyl side, I'd say:


- What Color is Love by Terry Callier. A 1972 album with a sublime cover. And a perfectly balanced album, moving between romanticism and more upbeat tracks.


- Because my mother listens to a lot of opera, I would mention I Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo or Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. It reminds me of Italy, of Sicily.


- Finally, I would keep Histoire de Melody Nelson, Serge Gainsbourg's masterpiece. Just mentioning the title gives me goose bumps. It's a true marvel, with sublime orchestration and arrangements.


And as far as CDs are concerned, in the course of my almost 25 years in the business I've amassed a whole collection of EPs and other 'promo' demos sent to me by artists - streaming hadn't yet arrived! - which I dip into from time to time. Lots of memories there too!

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