The reason we went to Paris this weekend was for a chance to see my cousin Nathan singing the role of Achilla in GF Haendel’s opera “Giulio Cesare”. When describing this opera Le Opéra National de Paris claims “Never was Handel’s melodic genius more effulgent: the score contains some of his brightest jewels…” Sounds good to me….bring on the jewels.
We have been to a few operas now -and from what I can deduce – it seems the goal of the art form is to blend orchestral music, classical singing, and theatre in a way that every main character but one is dead, there is a complicated love triangle based on mistaken identity and death-threats, and there are enough plot twists and strange events that the audience cannot possibly stand a hope of fully understanding the story. The show started at 7:00 – and counting the two intermissions was just over four hours long. This is obviously a type of entertainment that was not developed for a generation weaned on YouTube.
The Palais Garnier (the older of the two main opera halls in the city) holds 2,200 people – and all 14 shows have been sold out for months. The opera is also being live-broadcast to a chain of movie theaters around France for one show next week. Those tickets are selling for €28 – and Nathan heard that they’ve all already sold out as well. Not only that – but on Friday night when Guilio Cesare was playing at the ‘old opera hall’ the Opera de Paris was also putting on a production of Madame Butterfly at the Opéra Bastille (the other 2700 seat opera hall in Paris) So I guess – yes – Paris likes its opera.
We were sitting right down in the Orchestra section, 8th row back, just two seats from the centre aisle. Amazing seats. A-mazing. Best seats in the house. Well, we were close to what was an aisle at first – but then right before the show started, they ushered some additional people who had paid to have these smaller flip-up seats that turn and face the front. So now there are two seats across what was the aisle in each row. So now the entire lower section of the opera hall has no aisle. There is now officially no egress in case of emergency. So much for fire codes. Susan said she just told herself that it was an old stone building – and unlikely to burn down.
The show was utterly impressive. Between the orchestra, the singing, the costumes and the stage props – up to and including a statue of Pharaoh lying on his back that was probably 2.5m tall and 10m long. Everything about it is over-the-top.
As soon as the intermission starts there is this sea of designer dresses and black suits that flow out of the main hall – into the various stairways, hallways and halls like there was a giant pool of upper crust of society pent up in the main hall that suddenly had a stopper removed and now the mass all just flows down like water finding the path of least resistance. However this is not random movement. These people seem to have something that is part of them at a very base level that directs their movement – like the embedded genetic disposition that salmon have for swimming upstream. However the goal here is much simpler – they are all moving directly towards the champagne. Everyone seemed to be grabbing one glass of champagne for each person in their party. Seriously – we probably saw a dozen people drinking something other than champagne. (Two of those people were use, we shared a bottled-water – I know, big-spender right?)
The celling of the main hall was re-painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall (the 20th century Russian/French painter) in his unique style. This is why one could argue that it fits in with the rest of the decor about as well as having a Portugese Regge band would have fit in as an opening act for the opera. Chagall’s painting (which itself is beautiful) surrounds the main chandelier which purportedly weighs in at 8 tonnes and hangs 20m above. This is a fact that one tries not to dwell on when one is seated directly below it.
Since I only had my phone with us -and couldn’t get any decent pictures inside – I’ve found a few to give you a sense of the over-the-top oppulence of the place if you’ve never had the chance to see it.
NOTE: for a better feel of what it’s actually like, there is a virtual tour here.
Front of the building…
[photo from Peter Rivera on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/riverap1/3736516253/]
Below is le Grande Foyer. You can think of it like this: The Grande Foyer is to the Palais Garnier what the mini-arcade-in-the-lobby is to the CineplexOdeon 12. You grab a flute of champagne and then just wander through and mingle.
[from A7Design1 flickr set : http://flic.kr/p/74o8xB]
Below is the main staircase – which is 30m tall (that’s right 100ft) and made of white marble.
[from scarletgreen’s flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9160678@N06/with/723885412/]
Overall, I must say that there is something suspiciously humbling about hearing an opera from the 1700’s in a building built in the 1800’s at the beginning of 2011.