Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Rant -- S#!t happens... and more

This morning I was supposed to take the fast train and go to Ghent to see the new Calixto Bieito gem,  Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Flanders Opera.

From the new Calixto Bieito show at the Flanders Opera: Rise and Fall of the city of Mahagonny

My troubles started with a local train that I had to take to get to La Gare du Nord. It got delayed for more than 20 min which never happens on Sunday morning [If you ever have to take RER in Paris, do not even think about timetables -- they are hardly ever respected] If my first trouble was that RER-B do not respect their timetable, my second trouble was that Thalys (fast train to Belgium) always respect theirs, and so when I arrived to the Gare du Nord I had about 6 minutes to collect my tickets and get on my train.
Thalys train: Paris--Brussels in 80 minutes.

For whatever reason, when you buy your tickets on the French Rail (SNCF) website, they often do not give you the option to print your tickets at home. Instead, they send you a code that you have to type into one of many desperately slow ticket machines, physically available at the railway station only. The slowness becomes unbearable when you count the seconds and when they double check on you asking you to insert your credit card and type the corresponding code (which makes two codes = 4 minutes to machine to OK.) At the very last moment, however,  the machine I was typing my codes into stopped working. I  rarely swear, but there my multilingual arsenal of juicy swearwords was flowing out flawlessly... OK, I then found another free machine, repeated the whole %$@# slow procedure and finally got my tickets. During my WR breaking 200m dash to the train I could watch the doors of my Thalys closing before I could reach them. Was already out of breath to swear loudly...
Taking another train turned out to be far too expensive and so no Flanders Opera for me this weekend. Tough luck!

Here is the Mahagonny trailer for us to drool together:

I may try to go and see it in Antwerp :( 

Opéra de Paris: Palais Garnier

Let me counterbalance this rant by praising one welcoming change at the Paris Opera. For the first time ever, you can actually print your tickets at home. It may seem laughable to many of you but for the first time you do not have to actually stand in the line to collect the tickets you paid on the Internet, nor you have to fear that the ticket was sent to you by snail-mail and you might have accidentally chucked it with the rest of your junk mail.
To really appreciate the impact of this change, you should know that prior to September 2011 the Paris Opera website was selling only the tickets in the top three brackets. Now, ALL ticket prices are available on their website (including those that cost only 15 €/seat), and that is excellent news.

Those less expensive tickets were not accessible to normal working people nor to the people living outside of Paris. Before September 2011 those tickets were sold at the Paris Opera counters and would disappear in just a few hours. Obviously the folks who were benefiting from this outrageously flawed system are now raving about the scandalous change of the organization of the ticket sales (sic!), and complain how the Paris Opera is being disrespectful to them (double sic!)
That's some curious definition of (dis)respect...

In short, to all of you guys planning to visiting Paris: You can now buy your tickets on the Paris Opera website -- including the cheap ones.

That's what I perceive as a good change at the Paris Opera, whereas the quality of the 2011-2012 season remains poor and resembles the tired elitism of the temples of traditionalism at The Met and The Royal Opera House.

From the new production of Faust at the Paris Opera: Inva Mula and Roberto Alagna

The 2011-2012 season at Bastille kicked off by an appallingly flat production of Salomé.
Several months ago I was disappointed by Salomé at the Komische Oper in Berlin (KOB), thinking it was below the standards of my dearest opera house. In retrospect and after having seen this vacuous revival of André Engel production of Salomé in Paris, I realize how I was wrong. Salomé at KOB was orders of magnitude better on the quality scale than this show tailored for "Born-again-Christians" in which even the Dance of the Seven Veils was scenically suppressed (third sic!)
I try to be positive about the shows I see but this was insulting our culture and our intelligence. I think I will eventually write a few lines just to compliment the singers who were great.  I also  saw the final dress rehearsal of the new production of Faust and I enjoyed its musical quality in spite of the horror that my eyes had met that night. Oh my... That show reminded me of Patricia Racette during the intermission of Boris Godunov, live broadcast from The Met, when she was bragging about hundreds of people being involved in mounting the show and millions of dollars spent on the sets and costumes, and unfortunately no one to tell her that those figures only increase our discomfort that such an amount of money and human resources was invested in as unintelligent and badly structured show... This Faust is pretty much like that poor Boris: loads of money are invested to mount the show that says nothing really, that is too busy with all lots of decor and it's made only to cuddle the old traditionalists who never take a tube to see that France has changed in the past 40 years or so.

And so, during Salomé I felt like I do in a room with people who I suspect might be anti-semite, and during Faust I felt the show was made for aged practicing Catholics only -- which I'm obviously not.

Clemenza di Tito at Opéra Garnier in Paris: Klaus Florian Vogt (Tito), Stéphanie d'Oustrac (MAGNIFICENT Sesto), Amel Brahim Djeloul (Servilia)

No, not everything is bad. There is actually a brilliant production currently on the program at the Paris Opera (Opéra Garnier): La Clemenza di Tito. It is superbly sung, wonderfully orchestrated, and beautifully staged (it's a revival of the Willy Decker production that I didn't see before). Will try to blog about all of the above shows soon (and two truly wonderful productions that I saw in Brussels and Basle resp)


  1. Hi, opera-cake, the print-at-home service has been working since January, I was able to print my ticket for Alagna's Francesca da Rimini in February...

    I'm looking forward to Faust, La Clemenza di Tito (I was lucky enough to get one of those less expensive tickets) and next month's Tannhäuser...

  2. Hi Mei! Hope all is well on your end!

    Good to know, but the novelty is that ALL categories are now available on the Internet. I remember how I was angry to have bought a 100€ seat for Kat'a Kabanova on the 2nd balcony to see a number of empty seats in cheaper categories (and better placed for my liking).

    It's a good change ;) You must listen to La Clemenza! It looks and sounds WONDERFUL! Will blog about it tomorrow [hopefully] Cheers

  3. Nice to see you posting again, I assume you took some time off from blogging here.

  4. Hi Henry! ;)

    Nice to be back in the loop. I waited to see some good shows, not to be too tempted blogging about the stuff I saw and didn't like.

    I saw amazing Médée in Brussels, extraordinary Wozzeck in Basle, and with a wonderful Clemenza from Paris I feel that even if I blogged about the bad shows I was able to see, I wouldn't sound too bitter about them. So it's all good ;)


  5. WRT Opera de Paris, do you think it will ever be possible to choose the precise seat within the section you want? It's frustrating to be online right when booking opens and still have a terrible seat, as happened to me for Clemenza--we'll see how bad my Faust and Tannhauser seats are. The Met website allows you to choose your exact seat, though the booking fee is higher than in Paris.

    Salome was pretty dull, wasn't it?

    Medee was a temptation, but Nadia Michael was so hard to listen to I couldn't see going back.


  6. Hi Susan! I doubt the Paris Opera will give you the option to choose among available seats any time soon. They made the system so complicated that it became a maze of constraints to the algorithm to pick up ANY of the available seats.
    What you can do, for example, you can keep choosing the seats in the category you want, and if/when you see one that you might like, you cancel the others and pick the one you thought was the best.

    For La Clemenza it was tough to get a free seat anyway, so count yourself lucky! ;)
    Agree on Salomé -- very bad show. As for Nadia Michael, she was amazing as Médée. To me that's what opera is about. That's one of those shows that keep me going to the opera. Warlikowski and a few more directors are really above the rest of the field.

  7. I am relying on Thalys to get me from Brussels to Paris after Oedipe. That is a work I have long wanted to see.
    Is the Bastille Metro staion still shut?

  8. Hi John! I unfortunately cannot go to see Oedipe and I'm already jealous you will ;) Seriously, La Monnaie is the Europe's top-3 opera house in terms of quality of what they present there (together with the Komische and Basel) You never go there to see a yawny show or something totally irrelevant.
    Even (dreaded) La Bohème presented there last year was delicious -- OK, it was the Komische production by Andreas Homoki, so no surprise there ;)

    Thalys is impeccable. If you have the 1st class ticket (which you can sometimes find cheaper than the 2nd class one - sic!) then you can also freely use their ultra-fast internet connection.

    As for the Bastille Metro stop, it's open --although not all corridors are being cleared yet, but you can find your way out.

    I bet you're coming for Tannhäuser?! I LOVED this production when it was premiered. I believe I saw it 4 times then. Eva Maria Westbroek at her absolute best, impressive & hefty Stephen Gould, plus Matthias Goerne brilliant. With a very interesting direction from Ozawa, and in an inventive production by Carsen... memorable moment!

  9. Brussels is the best "French" opera house. Pardon Flemings. Les Huguenots was the absolute and unexpected highlight of last season and is what the Paris Opera should be doing to reinvigorate the French opera heritage.

    I know Oedipe is not quite French but it was first performed in French. I've only heard recordings and it does seem somewhat intractable as a stage work but if anyone can pull it off it will be La Monnaie.

    Yes,Thalys with free wi-fi (and snack and glass of wine) will be bringing me down to Paris for Tannhauser. I have high expectations of Stemme and Koch and I am keen to hear Ventris as Tannhauser. He has been very careful in his schedule and career .

  10. They are the best opera house as far as the artistic quality goes! Parsifal this year, Macbeth last year, Rusalka the year before (the best Herheim to me)... not to mention the best Idomeneo in business, amazing Britten opera productions, fascinating Ligeti, smashing Médée. Only the Komische and Basel get this steady level of quality, and also Stuttgart to a lesser extent.

    The Paris Opera is producing Manon and Faust this year. If you saw Boris Godunov from the Met last season, then the comparison with this Faust will be perfect. La Traviata by Eyre at Covent Garden would be a good comparison too. Good singing with atrocious staging.
    I'm pretty sure Manon will be similar too.

    I hope Ventris will be good in Tannhäuser although I fear the role might be a tad too big for him -- especially at Bastille. But that man knows what he's doing so let's hope for the best.

    I hope I'll manage to go to Antwerp for Mahagonny next week ;)