A Royal Opera

Opera by (electric) candlelight

I’m a writer. I love a good story. The stories in operas are not good; Mimi wasting away of consumption in a Paris garret, Norma climbing the funeral pyre, Carmen’s ranting ex… the ending is always the same. She dies tragically.

Violetta dies tragically (photo courtesy of the Opéra de Versailles)

And to my ears, these gloomy tales us are told by hysterical screechers, their voices grating on my nerves like dry erase on a white board. I spend most of the show wishing they’d stop singing so I could hear the music! There have been some performances I have truly enjoyed, but more for the moment; seeing an outdoor performance of The Magic Flute with the Château de Sceaux as a backdrop (at last, a happy ending… although that high F6 drove me mad for days), or watching Carmen at Christmas, cuddled-up with Mr French over a steaming mug of hot chocolate (spoiler alert; she dies tragically). Someone once told me that it was a question of maturity and that I’d learn to love it when I was older which has only left me dreading the fit of depression I’ll fall into if I ever do start liking opera…

The King's Loge

So it was an incredible act of selflessness when I chose to give Mr French tickets to see La Traviata (you know the ending) at the Royal Opera House of Versailles for Christmas. The Royal Opera House was inaugurated in 1770 as part of the wedding celebrations for Louis XIV and his charming little Austrian, Marie-Antoinette. The Opera house was closed for restoration in 2007 and Mr French has had a hard time getting tickets since its re-opening in 2009. In walks moi. I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice and attend an opera, even if it meant taking the risk of actually liking it and spiraling into a fit of depression as I ponder my mortality.

Only a few souls were left haunting the château

The sacrifice was large when you consider the sumptuous beauty of the setting; royal seats designed for a king, exquisite chandeliers and ornately painted wood. And we had the entire palace to ourselves, with just 1000 other, well-dressed guests. Versailles at its best. I can’t say that I was suffering.

The show was spectacular, and even if I don’t yet love opera, I do love the music and I could appreciate that the soprano, Nathalie Manfrino, was truly fantastic. The purity of her voice moved even me during her final aria. But I’ll be honest; the best part was spending the two intermissions haunting the wings, watching the sunset over the deserted gardens, and entering the King’s loge, feeling like a princesse as I sat in the royal seats.

MORE INFO/ Opéra Royal de Versailles

Party’s over

As I mentioned earlier, E’s primary gift for 18th birthday was a night at the Opera Garnier. I came up with brilliant idea last month when Mr French and I were invited to the opera house to see Orphée and Eurydice by the choreographer Pina Bausch.

The opera house was designed by Charles Garnier in the 1860’s when Haussmann was tearing up the town. At the inauguration Empress Eugenie cried, “What style is that? That’s not a style…. Its not Greek, Louis XV, or even Louis XVI.” Garnier promptly retorted, “Its Napoleon III! And you’re complaining?” While I appreciate the architecture, it is the ceiling within the opera house that really melts my butter. The chandelier is simply magnificent. All 7-8 tons of it sits as the perfect tiara to the masterpiece painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. I could stare at that painting for hours… the dancers, the Eiffel Tower and all those rich, warm tones. Above it all, invisible to our eyes, is a dance studio for rehearsals. Delicious!.

Bausch at the Garnier was transcendent, it was abundantly clear that an electric energy had enraptured the audience and the performers in the moment. After the show, there was a poignant silence before the audience came back to earth and burst into exuberant applause, including past President of France, Valéry Giscard-d’Estaign, who was sitting a few rows behind me Yes, the past President of the Republic was behind me. Wow, what more can a girl say than Wow? Following the event there was a cocktail in the Grand Foyer, with its eloquent balcony that runs along the façade of the opera house, the dancers drifted in glowing and waif-like. I didn’t need any champagne, I was drunk from the magnificence of it all.

That night, at home, E expressed her desire to see a ballet the opera some day. The timing was right, Robbins/EK was performing during her birthday. I booked the loges this time, the nostalgically romantic, red brocade lined rooms with coat racks and couches that seat an intimate group of six. The doors only open with a key, giving you the impression of stepping back in time before entering the booth, which immediately transported us to the 19th century. Stretching out our necks, to view the audience, we almost believed we’d spot some feather-trimmed, diamond-encrusted aristocracy. We were eventually brought back to the 21st century as the Robbins piece began; it was light, classical and perfect for the spring. EK was something different altogether, a bit dark, and occasionally morbid, but laugh aloud funny throughout, right in step with our birthday celebration.

Bats in the bellfry, Oh, so Phantom.

Palais Garnier

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