Normally it takes a few days or weeks till I get my head around writing about my latest adventure, but this time I decided to jot everything down while it’s still fresh. I’m also on the train right now, so there’s a couple of hours to spare as I return to Amsterdam to finish up my latest TV jolly.
On Monday I jumped on the Eurostar from London to Paris to continue my 80 operas and ballets challenge. This time it was the Palais Garnier.
The Garnier opera house stands in the middle of a very busy road intersection with an ocean of people running across the streets and cars waltzing around the pedestrians at rush hour. That in itself feels like quite the ballet.
The façade of the building is imposing, but it’s the mesmerising interiors that make you take a deep breath (once you pass the plastic security doors). I didn’t know where to look: the grand staircase, the lush artwork, the shimmering chandleries. Architecture-wise, probably my most sumptuous experience so far.
Palais Garnier is one of two main opera houses in Paris, the other being Opera Bastille (the latter is a fairly uninteresting 1980s building so I didn’t fancy the trip). The Garnier opera was constructed in the second half of the 19th century (completed in 1875) and the interiors are an opulent mix of baroque, renaissance, with some Italian influence. I read up later that this is commonly referred to as the ‘Napoleon III’ style. A very full-on marble, gold and fine art display, nearly to the point where it’s too much to handle. Reminds me of typical Russian lavish abundance and the Bolshoi theatre (or rather the Russians took over from the French). Garnier is widely considered one of the most fine-looking buildings in France, though the famous French architect Le Corbusier couldn’t disagree more calling it ‘a lying art’.
Mind you, they’ve currently got a rather controversial art installation on display: these two big tractor wheels stuck to the rails of the staircase (apparently representing the halo of the Saturn). In short, not my cup of tea and just ruins the view. You could say, well, it’ a quite eclectic interior either way but it honestly doesn’t compliment the majestic staircase in any way.
I chose to see a selection of three ballets set to well known classical music ‘hits’ by Georges Bizet, Franz Liszt and Maurice Ravel, all pieces choreographed by the Swede Mats Ek. The first piece was a modern ballet version of the opera Carmen, followed by Liszt’s Sonata in B minor with solo piano accompanying a story of life and love between man and woman. And my favourite for dessert: the Bolero.
I bought seats on the side of the orchestra, super close to the stage. I usually try to sit as central as possible, but on this occasion, it actually allowed me to admire the auditorium in full glory. I could gaze at the audience, then the orchestra and practically felt like I was on stage with the dancers.
But my best memory of the whole night… was the conductor! That’s a first I think...he was literally dancing and singing along, clearly very much enjoying his job :) I thought he looked quite French but then I did a quick google and turns out he's actually a fellow Brit: Jonathan Darlington. I cant wait to see him in concert, so looks like a visit to the local philharmonic is in store!