Opera arias at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

When I first saw the announcement for this concert in 2008, I must admit I was a bit suspicious. It said in large letters: “HOMMAGE à MARIA CALLAS” followed in smaller letters by the name of a soprano I had never heard of, who was said to be “from La Scala in Milan.” Meaning, I assumed, that she had sung there at some point, but I wondered what and when.

Of course I went to the concert anyway. The singer Lina Castellanza (whose real name I’m told is Marceline Roussel) turned out to be more or less my generation — well, not quite, but tending in my direction, so to speak.

Her bio that was distributed at the concert mentioned that she had once studied at the Opera School of La Scala, Milan, but not what or when she had ever sung there. It also said that she had studied for several years with the tenor Franco Corelli in Milan — this being the Callas connection, since Corelli had often sung opposite Callas on the stage.

I later found out that Lina Castellanza and her husband, the pianist Herbert du Plessis, had been giving these concerts for several years at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre in the Latin Quarter in Paris — since 2001 at least.

Soprano Lina Castellanza enjoying the applause / selling CDs

Well, since I did not go in with any sort of exaggerated expectations, I actually quite enjoyed the concert. She still had a strong voice and good technique, and sang several well-known arias by Rossini, Bellini and Verdi. I thought she did best with the excerpts from Bellini’s Norma, reminding me of the performance I had seen at the State Opera Unter den Linden in Berlin a few years earlier with Silvana Dussmann in the title role.

There were about eighty people in the audience in Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, and the applause was quite enthusiastic. Some of the people around me were speaking French and seemed to be fans of the performers, so it was not purely a tourist concert, as I had expected.

Historical sign at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

This aptly-named church (Saint Julien the Poor) is within sight of the cathedral Notre-Dame, but is as poor and plain as the cathedral is rich and elaborate.

They say Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre is the oldest church in Paris, dating from the 12th century. It was built on the site of an even older chapel dedicated to St. Julien, which was already in existence when the Bishop Grégoire de Tours stayed here in the year 580.

The church had its ups and downs through the centuries. During the Revolution in 1793 it became a salt-warehouse and wasn’t used as a church again until 1826.

In 1889 Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was turned over to the Greek-Melkite-Catholic denomination, who still use it today.

Vélib’ station number 5009 on rue du Fouarre, behind the church

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on the Latin Quarter in Paris.

5 thoughts on “Opera arias at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre”

  1. Love the park behind the church but have never been inside. A concert would be wonderful. Have you been to nearby St. Severin? Some wonderful modern stained glass there. We wandered into a funeral service there once with our two red-headed daughters and outside afterwards one of the young men of the family sought out our youngest daughter and thanked her for coming. We suspected her good looks had something to do with his gratitude. 😉

    1. I remember that little park behind Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre particularly because we met there one morning during the 2011 VT meeting for a walk, guided by Paul Smith aka pfsmalo.
      I’ve never been inside St. Severin, but am curious after reading about François Mitterrand’s wedding there in 1944. As his wife Danielle told it much later, after his death, it was a beautiful wedding day until Mitterrand abruptly said he had to leave to chair a political meeting of the MNPGD (National Movement of Prisoners of War and Deportées). Danielle was shocked that he would do that on his wedding night, but insisted on going with him. “And so it was in my wedding dress that I first attended a meeting chaired by François.”

  2. I don’t believe I’ve come across this church before (then again, there are dozens of churches in Paris I’ve never been to). But I recall attending a small concert in one of the churches near Arts et Métiers, so I understand the beauty of attending a concert (or opera) in a church: there’s something intimate and haunting about doing so, and it’s the experience to be had while visiting a new city.

  3. I remember all the controversy about Maria Callas losing weight and her connection with Onassis. I never heard her sing. I actually haven’t been to many operas – I went to Opera Week in Cleveland with a school friend of mine when I was in college (Oberlin). My friend was a Conservatory student – I was in the College.

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