Review of 350th anniversary of the National Opera of Paris in 2019, France

In 2019 the Opéra National de Paris celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding with a gala. In ten dates from May 8, 2019 with a grand gala evening that brings together the big names in music, opera and dance. The opportunity to evoke the turbulent history of the great house.

This is an opportunity to mark this event by understand its history of the Paris Opera which recounts and celebrates this exceptional story from the founding of the Royal Academy of Music by Colbert in 1669 until the Opéra National de Paris, in the 21st century.

The history goes back to the creation by Louis XIV of the various academies of opera dance and music to modern and globalized opera by telling the story of the operation of the institution throughout the 19th century, under the empire, the restoration and the second empire and throughout the 20th century. From 1669, under Louis XIV, to 1989, when the Bastile opera was inaugurated, a shortcut in ten dates of the history of the Paris Opera, with its triumphs, its scandals, the great composers and the stars who have lived.

As an institution, the National Opera of Paris is better known as the grand building of Palais Garnier. The Opéra Garnier is a national theater which aims to be an academy of music, choreography and lyric poetry; it is a major element of the heritage of the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III.The Opéra Garnier is are representative of the Napoleon III style, unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.

The Palais Garnier has been called “probably the most famous opera house in the world, a symbol of Paris like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or the Sacré Coeur Basilica.” This is partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, especially, the novel’s subsequent adaptations in films and the popular 1986 musical.

The event offers a complete and richly illustrated panorama of the institution, its history and its repertoire. Among others: – The different halls occupied by the Paris Opera since 1669, in particular the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille – The major periods of the governance of the Opera, and the relationship between artistic and political programming – A history of dance and the Opera Ballet – A file on the hidden professions of opera – Portfolios on major historical productions (opera and ballet).

The event with abundantly illustrated thematic inserts give this story a visual and attractive extension that highlights one or another aspect of this story: royal aesthetics, Mozart in Paris, the construction of the Palais Garnier, the creation of Guillaume Tell by Rossini, the entry of Carmen into the repertoire, Degas into the opera, the Ballets Russes, the couturiers into the Opera, the Opera into the cinema, etc…

Highlights of History
The year 2019 marks a double anniversary for the Opéra national de Paris: 350 years of the institution and 30 years of the Opéra Bastille. On June 28, 1669, King Louis XIV signed the letters patent in Saint-Germain-en-Laye authorizing the poet Pierre Perrin to establish an opera academy to offer the public performances in music and in the French language, which was to become a few years later, in 1672, the Royal Academy of Music.

By this act, the king wanted to contribute to his personal entertainment and that of the public, to welcome artists from all countries to transmit the taste for theatre, dance and music. Louis XIV thus bequeathed to France an exceptional institution which laid the foundations of French opera. First installed in the Bottle Tennis Room, the Opera was to occupy several rooms over the centuries, until the one designed by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875: the Palais Garnier, Place de l’Opéra.

On July 13, 1989, for the bicentenary of the French Revolution, in the heart of the Bastille district, President François Mitterrand inaugurated the second theater desired for the Paris Opera, “a house open to all audiences”, an “Opera popular” as he was called then. Regardless of the location of the 2,700 spectators, visibility and listening quality are intended to be optimal. The theatre, designed by Carlos Ott, has a gigantic space behind the scenes and an imposing technical system which makes it one of the most efficient working tools in the world of opera.

Today, the Opéra national de Paris is the custodian of a vast heritage: music, ballet, singing and arts and crafts to serve the fabric of the show. Its mission is to bring this heritage to life while questioning it in order to create a dialogue conducive to creation. La 3e Scène, a digital creation platform inaugurated in 2015, is one of the illustrations of the energy implemented to anchor the Opéra national de Paris in the present and extend its influence.

1669: birth and wandering – The Paris Opera was born on June 28, 1669, bringing together from the outset a troupe of singers, the first professional orchestra in France and a corps de ballet.

1774: triumph of Gluck – Reformer of the lyrical art, the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck triumphs on the Parisian scene with productions that turn their backs on Italian stereotypes. Queen Marie-Antoinette admits to being “transported” at the premiere of her Iphigénie en Aulide in April 1774. Iphigénie en Tauride follow in 1779.

1829: last Rossini – The Italian Gioachino Rossini composed a grandiose Guillaume Tell for the Paris Opera, a four-hour historical fresco that the public shunned at its presentation in August 1829. This semi-fiasco and the 1830 revolution pushed Rossini into early retirement, to 38 years old.

1841: first Giselle – Apotheosis of romantic ballet, Giselle was premiered at the Paris Opera on June 28, 1841 to a libretto composed by Théophile Gautier for the Italian dancer Carlotta Grisi with whom he fell in love. Since then, the choreography has been given more than 700 times. It is, with Coppélia, the most danced ballet in the Parisian repertoire.

1861: Wagner scandal – Boos in the room on March 13, 1861 for the premiere of Tannhäuser. Richard Wagner, settled in Paris for months to develop the French version of his opera, does not like the insult. He had the performances canceled and left the capital. His name not return to the Parisian poster until 30 years later with Lohengrin which provoke an anti-German riot on the evening of the premiere.

1875: crowned party at Garnier – Under the glare of thousands of gaslights, the Palais Garnier was inaugurated with great pomp, on January 5, 1875, in the presence of crowned heads, highnesses in exile and princes of finance. Grand monumental staircase, ballroom-like foyer: the building gleams with its marble, gold and chandeliers. The only hiccup, the architect Charles Garnier, forgotten among the guests, has to pay for his place at the last minute.

1964: Callas rowdy – A luxury Norma is given on May 22, 1964 at the Opera: Georges Prêtre at the baton, Franco Zeffirelli at the stage and Maria Callas in the title role. The diva sings Vincenzo Bellini’s opera in front of an audience of stars: Romy Schneider, Grace Kelly… But “hou-hoo” fall from the henhouse during the performance. At the end, opponents and defenders of Calas come to blows in an overexcited atmosphere.

1975: Elektra without electricity – Gala evening, this April 11, 1975, in the name of Franco-German friendship: in front of the French and German presidents, the soprano Birgit Nilsson interprets an Elektra directed by the veteran Karl Böhm. A blackout plunges the room into darkness in the middle of Richard Strauss’ opera. When the light returns, the 80-year-old conductor is sleeping at his desk.

1983: a dancing lord – One of the most brilliant canvases in the world of dance, Rudolf Nureyev became in 1983 director of dance at the Opera. The brilliance of the Soviet defector reflects on the entire Parisian troupe. This “lord of the dance” was broke on January 6, 1993 by AIDS. His coffin was honored within the walls of Garnier itself.

1989: capture of the Bastille opera – In the middle of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the Paris Opera inaugurated on July 13, 1989 a second house: the Bastille opera house. The voices of Placido Domingo, Barbara Hendricks, Ruggero Raimondi resonate that evening in the new 2,700-seat hall, the largest in Europe for opera.

Highlights of Celebrations

350th Anniversary Gala
The inaugural Gala of Paris Opera 350 years celebration including a grand celebration party, as well as many surrounding activities. Most of the program of the show are opera and works from French, including Verdi’s Don Carlos, La Traviata… Starting with Berlioz and the Hungarian march of the damnation of Faust, gives a nice sparkle to start the evening.

As the ballets in the repertoire: La Dame aux Camélias by John Neumeier, Le Park by Angelin Prejlocaj and Carmen by Roland Petit. The absence of the scenic concentrated the beauty of the moment even more on the choreography. On the lyrical side, Sonya Yoncheva performs with Bryan Hymel in the duet of Saint-Sulpice by Manon, and with Ludovic Tezier in the moving second act of La Traviata, are moments of great intensity.

The whole ends with the finale of Faustby Gounod, a perfectly elegiac choice which is well suited to the atmosphere of this evening and which allows us to stitch together the musical patchwork which was offered to us.

Special evening at the Palais Garnier
Between repertoire and creation, the Paris Opera looks back over 350 years of history. From Scarlatti’s Primo Omicidio to Michael Jarrell’s Bérénice, a world premiere commissioned by the Paris Opera, the 2018/2019 season proposes a voyage through several centuries of the House’s opera and ballet history. In a few selected fragments – following a practice popular in the century of the Royal Academy of Music.

Secrets of the Palais Garnier
The Paris Opera and the Forum des Images invite you to discover the Palais Garnier: guided by Ballet dancer Roxane Stojanov, enjoy a journey between reality and illusion through the mysterious and bewitching spaces of the opera house designed by Charles Garnier.

The Saturnals
On the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Paris Opera and the 30th anniversary of its new auditorium, the artist Claude Lévêque has created Saturnales, an installation evoking the Poèmes saturniens by Verlaine as well as the luminous brilliance of the planet Saturn, to be experienced throughout this celebratory year..

Emblematic Characters and Costumes
For the 350 th anniversary of the Opera, the influential French photographer VuThéara, with his artistic director, Antoine Neufmars, has immortalized twelve emblematic costumes from the Paris Opera’s repertoire. Stars and operatic soloists have slipped into the skins of their characters. They testify to the importance, as much aesthetic as practical, of the costumes for the productions, meticulously designed in the workshops of the Paris Opera.

To mark its anniversary season, the Paris Opera is inviting illustrators to reinvent the posters for its productions and to propose their personal interpretation of a work.

Graphic Poetry
As part of the Paris Opera’s anniversary season, the artist Mircea Cantor found himself offered carte blanche to decorate the pages of certain programs with drawings and calligraphy. Armed with Japanese brushes, he haunted rehearsal rooms and captured the gestures and exhalations of dancers, singers, choreographers and directors, examining the repertoire with the singular gaze of the aesthete.

The workshops of the Opera
On the occasion of the Opera’s anniversary year, the German photographer Heinz Peter Knes was offered carte blanche to take a look at the workshops of the Paris Opera. From this immersion in the heart of the institution’s artistic professions, an exhibition organized in our two theaters at the Opera and, since December 22, 2019, Gare de l’Est.

From the cellars to the rooftops
On the occasion of the Paris Opera’s 350th anniversary, Juan Jerez, photographer and architect, was invited to examine our House’s two theatres. This project, developed over the anniversary year, compares and contrasts the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille all the better to underline their complementarity. A backstage adventure from the cellars to rooftops, offering an opportunity to discover the Paris Opera from a new angle, both insightful and striking.

The 30th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille
To mark the 30th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille, Aurélien Poidevin looks back at an historical project that would profoundly alter the morphology of the national and international musical landscape. The exhibition show how one of the three largest Parisian monuments between 1981 and 1989, behind the National Library of France and the Ministry of Finances was built. Indeed, this new temple to opera so desired by François Mitterrand would become even larger than the Louvre Museum.