Several years ago I wrote that Paris had five opera houses, one of which was the Théâtre du Châtelet. Since then, however, the Châtelet has become more and more specialized in presenting operettas and musicals, so I wouldn’t really call it an opera house any more. It is now subtitled Théâtre Musical de Paris (“The Musical Theatre of Paris”) — though as of this writing (2017) it is closed for a lengthy period of renovation.
It was still open in 2015. On a Monday evening in June I got back into town earlier than I had expected, so I went over to the Châtelet to see if I could get a ticket for that night’s performance of the operetta La Belle Hélène (The Beautiful Helen) by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880).
When I arrived at the Châtelet I saw about twenty people, mainly of my generation, lined up at the box office on Avenue Victoria, on the north side of the theater building. They were lined up at this sign, offering reduced-price last-minute tickets to those who were under 28, over 65 or unemployed. It turned out there were enough places for all of us. So I got a category 2 ticket in the first balcony for 20€, which I assume is less than I would have paid otherwise. But I also bought a program for 10€, so the evening cost me 30€ altogether.
In the cast list I was glad to see two familiar names. The title role, Helen, Queen of Sparta, was played and sung by Gaëlle Arquez, who has sung several times at the Frankfurt Opera, including such roles as Medea in Händel’s Teseo, Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and the title roles in Händel’s Xerxes and Bizet’s Carmen. And one of the chorus members was Olivera Topalovic, whom I had met in 2006 when she was singing opera arias and duets with her colleague Florence Gelas under the arches of the Places des Vosges in Paris (scroll down towards the end of my post Ten days, eight operas, seven venues to see them).
This production of La Belle Hélène had great singing and dancing, but the really unique aspect of it was the creative use of videos. Three video screens were visible most of the time at the back of the stage, while on the stage itself we could see in real time how the special effects were produced. For instance, there was a scene in which different dresses appeared to be flying all by themselves up in the sky (while Helen was trying to decide what to wear), while down on the stage we could see that dancers dressed from head to foot in blue were dancing in these dresses before a blue background, which made them invisible in the video above their heads.
You can get a brief impression of this (and of Offenbach’s catchy tunes) by watching the trailer on the Châtelet’s website or on Daily Motion. At the end of the trailer, you can see how Menelaos seems to be flying through a storm in a small plane, and how Helen and Paris (the son of Priam, King of Troy) seem to be getting intimate in her bedroom.
Address: 2, rue Edouard Colonne 75001 Paris
Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2012. I revised the text in 2017.