This theater is not on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, as I used to think, but is several blocks from there on Avenue Montaigne near the Place de l’Alma on the right bank of the Seine.
This is a very wealthy district of Paris, in fact for apartment buyers Avenue Montaigne is (most years) the most expensive street in the city. As of 2020, an average apartment on this street costs 22 771 € per square meter, which is more than double the city-wide average (10 586 €), as estimated by the website MeilleursAgents.
Of all the opera venues I went to in June 2006 this was the one with the highest percentage of men wearing suits and ties, maybe 35 or 40 percent. These looked to be high-powered business types who had come directly from their air-conditioned offices in their air-conditioned chauffeur-driven automobiles. But the theater itself was not adequately air-conditioned, so it was amusing to watch some of these chaps (not all) finally give in and start taking off their jackets and loosening their ties.
Outside the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Opps, there’s only one man wearing a suit and tie in these photos. So you’ll have to take my word for it that there were more downstairs in the expensive seats.
Audience in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
This theater is unusual in that it is not much more than a century old, having been built in 1913. It is said to be one of the few major examples of Art Nouveau in Paris. The stage is small and has little in the way of fancy machinery, so to change sets that have to lower the curtain and play a scene or two in front of it while armies (evidently) of stage hands change everything around by muscle-power, not without all the old-timey thumping and thudding sounds that you don’t hear any longer in modernized theaters where everything is done by hydraulics or electricity.
The opera I saw at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 2006 was Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with world-class singers including Lucio Gallo and Anna Bonitatibus, both of who have given gala performances in Frankfurt, and Patricia Ciofi, whom I had seen on television but never live.
The setting in this production was a somewhat seedy little seaside town in present-day Spain or Italy, with Don Giovanni as a somewhat pimpish local potentate.
What really impressed me was the ending, in which stage director André Engel managed to combine the last two scenes (I’ve never seen that done before). And after all these many years (this opera is over two hundred years old, after all) he even came up with a surprise ending.
Shall I tell you what it is? After the final jubilation chorus about how he got what was coming to him, Don Giovanni emerged unscathed from the flames, dusted off his dapper three-piece suit and stood there with a triumphant smirk on his face as the curtain fell.
In 2013 I went back and saw the same opera in the same theater — but in a completely different production with a different cast. Musically it was again first-rate and the audience was very enthusiastic, with prolonged rhythmic clapping at the final bows. A great thing for me was that two old acquaintances from Frankfurt were in the cast this time: Miah Persson as Donna Elvira and Daniel Behle as Don Ottavio.
(Both of them have come as guests to my opera appreciation courses. Miah Persson came to Frankfurt OperaTalk in 2002, and Daniel Behle came to my German-language opera course Opern-Gespräche in 2007.)
The 2019/2020 opera season has been cut short, worldwide, by the coronavirus pandemic, but according to the statistics currently available on operabase.com, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is now the world’s fourth most-often-performed opera (after Verdi’s La Traviata, Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini’s La Bohème).
As I have mentioned in my post on the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861–1929), the Art Nouveau bas-reliefs on the façade of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées were made by Bourdelle between 1910 and 1913. The inspiration for this one, La Musique, is said to have been a performance of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun in 1912, with Vaslav Nijinsky dancing the rôle of the faun.
Location and aerial view of the theater on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2013. I revised the text in 2020.