The second venue of the state-owned L'Opéra National de Paris, Opéra Bastille, a building of from blue granite from Brittany and pear wood from China, was erected on the spot where the former railway station of Gare de la Bastille used to stand. A truly gigantic structure, it can be only described as a city within a city. The grand auditorium which seats 2700 is only the tip of the iceberg: the real miracle is unfolding backstage where whole stage sets are lined out exactly the way they are supposed to appear on-stage. In this opera house, sets are not dismantled after the performance - they are moved further backstage, into a space large enough to house scenery for three opera productions on the stage level and twice as much on two basement floors under the stage, which means that the whole stage sets of nine different productions are ready backstage at any given time, so that they only have to be switched whenever necessary.
This actually was the main idea behind the giant project initiated by then French president François Mitterrand - taking some strain off the strikingly opulent yet compact Opéra Garnier. It didn't stop there, however: the objective was creating a modern and popular opera accessible and affordable to the people, although the term 'popular' came under some serious fire in this context - the concept presumed top-quality artistic potential, not trivialised 'art for the masses'.
Opéra Bastille was inaugurated on 13 July 1989 with La Nuit Avant le Jour (The Night Before the Day), a gala production by the iconic American avant-garde director Robert Wilson, which also kicked off the bicentennial celebration of the storming of Bastille and the French Revolution and culminated with communal singing of La Marsellaise. Opéra Bastille opened its first season in March 1990.
As Gerard Mortier, one of the all-time greatest general directors of the Paris Opera, admitted in a TV interview, the French government had come to a conclusion that Paris needed an opera and, accordingly, made sure that it had all the necessary funding at its disposal. It was during Mortier's tenure (2004-2009) that the Paris Opera evolved into one of the world's artistically most interesting opera companies.
Where there is some serious money, there is also never a lack of plotting and scheming - mainly concerning the question as to who deserves to hold the post of the head of such a grand institution: even a figure like Daniel Barenboim, a conductor immensely influential in the opera world, was toppled from the post of the company's artistic director. Similarly, the seats in the auditorium are filled by one of the world's most opinionated audiences, easily capable of sweeping the most beautiful artistic experiments off the face of the world. In this opera house, no-one would tolerate an obstructed view of the stage; a legend goes that an opera production once featured a stage set which made it impossible for spectators sitting in the balconies to see anything but the singers' feet. The ensuing storm of indignation was enough for the unfortunate set to be dismantled immediately - during the opera performance.
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Keywords: Opera House, Paris