Bartók at the Théâtre du Châtelet

The Place du Châtelet on the right bank of the Seine is unique in that it is flanked by two large and (from a distance) identical-looking theaters, both of which belong to the city of Paris.

The one on the left is the Théâtre du Châtelet, which in 2006 was essentially a municipal opera house with about 1800 seats.

The one on the right is the Théâtre de la Ville, which is where the great actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1943) used to hold forth, in fact the theater was named after her from 1949 to 1967, and one of the cafes on the ground floor still bears her name.

In the entrance hall of the Théâtre du Châtelet

The opera I saw at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2006 was a concert performance of Le Château de Barbe-Blue (Bluebeard’s Castle) by Béla Bartók (1881-1945), which I remembered from a staged production in Frankfurt in 1994 and 1997.

Inside the Théâtre du Châtelet

Since Bluebeard is such a short opera (only one hour) they always try to find something to combine it with to make a full evening. The solution in Frankfurt was to sing the same opera twice but have the action run backwards, so to speak, on the second time through. The seven ominous doors in Bluebeard’s Castle were all gradually sealed up with bricks during the first showing, and the bricks were gradually removed during the second, with the character of Judith reacting accordingly, getting helplessly trapped the first time and emancipating herself the second. At the time I liked this idea, and I went to several performances, but it didn’t fill the house.

The solution in Paris was to precede Bluebeard with Daphnis et Chloe by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) for orchestra and chorus but without the dancers, the connection being that both works were composed at about the same time, around 1911. The big attraction of this program, and the reason all three performances were sold out weeks in advance, was that the great Jessye Norman (1945-2019) came out of retirement, so to speak, to sing the role of Judith in Bluebeard. Which she did exceedingly well. She was sixty years old, but still at the height of her powers.

View from Théâtre du Châtelet

If the weather is at all conducive at intermission time, you can step out onto the upper terrace of the Théâtre du Châtelet to have some fine views of the Seine with its bridges, and the Île de la Cité off to the right. The bridge in the foreground is the Pont au Change, and the metal one further on is the Pont Notre Dame. The towers of Notre Dame are visible in the center of the photo, and the building on the right is the Tribunal de Commerce on the Quai de la Corse.

Opera goers taking in the view at intermission time

Outside after the performance

Théâtre du Châtelet, 2, rue Edouard Colonne, 75001 Paris
Location and aerial view on

My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on Operas in Paris.
See also:
Jacques Offenbach at the Châtelet


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