The Salle Favart, home of the Opéra-Comique in Paris, re-opened in April 2017 after twenty months of renovation. At first glance the hall looks much the same as it did before — which was the intention — except that everything has been cleaned up, repainted and refurbished.
But the main point of the renovation was that the hall now conforms to modern safety standards and is accessible to people with mobility problems (via a side entrance on Rue Favart and a recently installed elevator). There are now only 1200 seats, since several dozen were sacrificed to make room for new security and ventilation systems. And they have doubled the number of toilets.
The opera I saw in the newly renovated Salle Favart was Le Domino Noir, a comic opera by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782-1871), one of over forty operas that Auber composed during his long career. Most of these were comic operas, with spoken dialogues, and were very popular during his lifetime, though they are seldom performed today. (Most people today know ‘Auber’ only as the name of a Paris subway station on the RER A line.)
The world premiere of Le Domino Noir took place at the Opéra-Comique (in a different building, since this one hadn’t been built yet) in 1837. It remained in the repertoire until 1911. According to the program booklet, the Opéra-Comique has put on 1,195 performances of Le Domino Noir so far, making it the 9th most often performed opera in the company’s history.
The libretto for Le Domino Noir was written by the prolific French dramatist Eugène Scribe (1791-1861). This was Scribe’s 22nd libretto for Auber, and he also wrote for other composers such as Verdi (Les vêpres siciliennes), Rossini (Le comte Ory) and especially Meyerbeer (Robert le diable, Les Huguenots, Le prophète and L’Africaine).
The “domino” in the opera’s title has nothing to do with the game of dominos. In former times a domino was a sort of long black cape with a hood, which was worn by mysterious aristocratic ladies to conceal their identity. In this case, the mysterious lady is Angèle de Olivarès, played and sung by Anne-Catherine Gillet in this production, who wears a domino so she can attend a Christmas ball at the court of the Queen of Spain without being recognized. It turns out that she is the queen’s niece and that she is a young novice nun who wants to have one last fling before taking her final vows and becoming the abbess of the convent.
The first act of the opera takes place in the ballroom, dominated by a huge clock that was inspired by the one on the fifth level of the Orsay Museum in Paris. This clock can also be made to run backwards, causing Angèle to stay too long at the ball (sort of like Cinderella, but for a different reason) and be locked out of the convent, which closed at midnight.
I found the opera quite entertaining, with lots of catchy music. The third act, which takes place in the convent the next morning, was dramatically a bit of a let-down, perhaps, but the stage directors Valérie Lesort and Christian Hecq managed to spice it up, for instance by having an actor and actress dressed all in white pretending to be an atlant and a caryatid as architectural features supporting the roof of the convent. They remained completely motionless for most of the third act (so I wasn’t sure if they were people or statues), but then suddenly they came to life, climbed down, ran to each other and embraced. When they saw they had been noticed they quickly returned to their places and resumed their poses again. (I’m a big fan of caryatids, so I much appreciated this scene.) These two actors are visible in my applause photo, the two figures dressed entirely in white.
Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.
My photos and text in this post are from 2018.