The amazing thing about my visit to Paris in June 2006 was that in ten days I saw eight operas at seven different venues. As I wrote at the time, “I don’t know of any other city in the world where this would be possible.”
The operas I saw on that visit were:
- La Damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz and L’Elisir d’amore (The elixir of love) by Gaetano Donizetti, both at the Opéra Bastille (see below, in this post).
- Iphigenie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck at the Opéra Garnier.
- Le Château de Barbe-Blue (Bluebeard’s Castle) by Béla Bartók in a concert performance at the Théâtre du Châtelet.
- Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
- Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) by Gioacchino Rossini at the Opéra-Comique.
- La Carmencita (based on Carmen by Georges Bizet) at the Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet.
- La Flûte Enchantée (The Magic Flute) be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in an open-air performance in the Senate Gardens, behind Luxembourg Palace.
This new opera house was built in the 1980s and inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It is one of two large venues run by the Opéra National de Paris, the other being the Opéra Garnier. “Raise the anchor of your emotions” was their motto for the 2006/2007 season.
The company does not have a permanent ensemble of singers, but hires the singers separately for each production. They do have a permanent orchestra and chorus, though. The orchestra has 170 members and is often divided into two halves, known as the green and blue orchestras, when two different productions are on the schedule at the two venues.
The Bastille Opera has 2703 seats (1571 downstairs, 518 in the first balcony, 516 in the second and 98 in the galleries), and they claim you can see and hear perfectly well from all of them.
The first opera performance I saw here was La Damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). There is some controversy about whether this is really an opera — the composer called it a “dramatic legend” — but it certainly seemed like an opera the way they staged it at the Bastille. They used stunning lighting and video effects, as well as large groups of perfectly synchronized dancers and acrobats. And musically it was first-rate as well, right up there with the two CD versions of it that I have at home.
The second opera I saw at the Bastille in 2006 was none other than L’Elisir d’amore (The elixir of love) by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), an opera which I have seen many times before and since in Frankfurt, Vienna, Gießen, Halle, Heidelberg, Prague, etc. (In Czech it is called Nápoj lásky and I have written about it in my post Three opera houses in Prague.)
The mock advertisements on the cover of the program booklet all praise the elixir of the quack doctor Dulcamara, which he claims can cure everything from impotence to constipation. Of course the elixir is just ordinary red wine, but it works beautifully for the love-sick Nemorino in the opera.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2020.