Saturday, May 19, 2012

Where's Karl? Contest #4

We have a winner!  Or, err, two.

Mystery Location #4: 

Clue #1: À Paris! à Paris, tous les deux! Nous vivrons à Paris!  We mentioned this place in an early blog post.  There!  Have at it!
Clue #2:  Those are song lyrics quoted above.  If you can figure out where they came from, you'll realize that there's only a limited number of venues in Paris where we might have heard it.  Now, have at it!

Winners:  Daniel and Stephanie
Answer: backstage at Opéra Bastille, Opéra National de Paris

We have two winners this week, because Daniel first correctly identified the Opéra National, then Stephanie specified Opéra Bastille as the correct opera house.  And, it occurs to us that perhaps we should have awarded two winners for the last contest, since our first answer (Libya) identified the building, while the second (Bridget) identified the museum to which the building belongs.  Can it be wrong to try to multiply the winners and multiply the joy???

A couple weekends ago, La Potiche got word that Opéra Bastille was putting on a program called "Opera For All," welcoming visitors to a free backstage tour!  There's only one thing La Potiche likes better than opera, and that's getting something for nothing, so we scuttled on over to the opera first thing Saturday morning for a 75-minute tour.  We had a delightful time looking at the sets and the big machines and going down into the bowels of the Opéra, and that's what we photographed.  The text is a little background on the Opéra and information we got on the tour.

set pieces for Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges
This is the history I've been able to glean from the Opéra National's web site and Wikipedia français:  the Académie royale de Musique, also known as l'Académie d’opéra or Opéra, was founded in 1669.  During the Revolution it became the Théâtre des Arts, then the Théâtre impérial de l'Opéra, then l’Opéra de Paris, moving, over the course of two centuries, in and out of thirteen different venues.  In 1858, after Napoleon III survived a bomb attack at one of these venues, Le Peletier, he commissioned a new opera house, Opéra Garnier.  In 1873, Le Peletier caught on fire and burned for two days.  (Cue synthesized organ music!)  Opéra de Paris opened in Opéra Garnier in 1875, joined with the Théâtre national de l’Opéra's Opéra Comique in 1939, to become La Réunion des théâtres lyriques nationaux, and dropped the Opéra Comique in 1978.  Finally, in 1982, François Mitterand decided he wanted a new opera house, moderne et populaire, and started soliciting architectural designs for the Opéra Bastille, which would be coupled with the Garnier as the Opéra national de Paris.  (Theater historians can feel free to correct me--I'm having a little trouble keeping it all straight.)

All this background is to prepare you for the narrative developed for us on the tour, which was that neither revolution, nor empire, nor bombings, nor fire, nor phantoms, was half so dramatic as what happened over the next thirty years with Opéra Bastille.  Six years of construction, changes of government and changes of heart when nobody, not even Mitterand himself, wanted to keep going with the project; strikes and snafus with conductors and the failure to figure out, in advance, how the orchestra of the Opéra Garnier was supposed to be able, under the rubric of the Opéra national, to play simultaneously in two theaters.   There were accidents, spectacular failures of the state-of-the-art stage equipment, and every kind of aesthetic compromise.

set for The Barber of Seville
But this disaster narrative was full of affection:  it is not easy, our tour guide suggested, to maintain the idealism of building a people's opera through the bureaucratic and material failures that accompany any major project--moreover, when your Opéra acts like a cute dog (or sea monster) with unpredictable behavioral problems.  The "democratique" public spaces of the galleries are democratic in the way of claustrophobic airport tunnels where everybody's pushing forward to the seats.  The "democratique" open-access ramps and stairs, intended to allow nosebleed seat-holders to take their seats as quickly and directly as the privileged orchestra-level visitors, turned out, after they'd been built, to violate both fire laws and later standards/notions of security, and were hastily refitted in such a way that, if you're a €5 ticket holder, as Le Prof and I were for Manon, you have to go up and down and up and down and ask three bartenders, a security guard, and a group of other lost, confused opera-goers why on earth your level eight seats are five floors up.  (But still, €5 seats?  Whoa.) Two years after the grand opening, the building began to fall apart; notably, when the exterior tiles began to fly off onto the sidewalk below, the Opéra began waging a sixteen-year lawsuit against the contractor for the replacement of the 36,000 tiles.  And down in the lobby--though the architect had stipulated that no artwork was ever to distract from the minimalism of his design--is the world's least minimalist sculpture, of which nobody on the Internets appears to have a photo. Imagine a steampunk contraption of gears and belts (which, incidentally, don't work) topped with a gigantic rainbow-painted, lumpy plaster statue of a naked Roseanne Barr, and you'll come close.

Architecture, opéra, sculpture....  At Opéra Bastille, all these arts are in a state of flux, being born, shifting, breaking down, and being taken down to the shop and fixed up again.  What better kind of People's Opéra, than an opera that's always a work in progress!

Contest #1: Winner:  Anne, and her correct answer!
Contest #2:  We are the winners, because we get to walk along it all the time.
Contest #3:  Winners:  Libya and Bridget, and the correct answer!
Contest #4:  Winners:  Daniel and Stephanie


  1. Obviously, that is Monoprix, with a surprising number of confused shoppers.

    1. They're confused by the massive six-foot oranges.

  2. Opéra National de Paris?—Daniel O'C.

  3. Opera De la Bastille. (says Stephanie SJ, erm... me, under one of my email aliases)