Otello at the Opéra Bastille

I’m in Paris! And I went to Otello at the Opéra Bastille with Renée Fleming and Aleksandrs Antonenko, and I wrote about it for Bachtrack. You can read it here! Surprise: La Fleming was great. Not a surprise: Marco Armiliato was boring.

One thing I didn’t mention in the review: while doing her death throes, Fleming slid off the bed and her nightgown began to head north. She managed to push it down in a relatively natural-looking way before we saw her knees. That’s some stage experience.

This was my first visit to the modern and giant Opéra Bastille, and I kind of hated it. It’s an airport with good acoustics, astonishingly cavernous and soulless. I was expecting something like the Deutsche Oper Berlin but bigger, but it is so much worse. But once the opera starts you stop noticing, and the sight lines and acoustics are excellent. And the seats are very comfortable.

The same can not be said of the Théatre des Champs-Elysées, where I saw Idomeneo last night. It is a pretty theater with, from where I was sitting, bad sight lines and problematic acoustics. More on that in a bit. The Idomeneo, not the sight lines and the acoustics, that is.

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  1. Funny, in Paris most people hate the Bastille acoustics and think the TCE is much better, even though it has awful sight lines indeed. Fact is that in both houses the acoustic experience is very much dependent from the seat you're in (it can be awful at Bastille too, and the funny detail is that the acoustically worst seats in the house are in the most expensive price band), so you were rather fortunate on one evening and unlucky on the other.

  2. Hmm, that's really interesting! I was quite surprised at how good the Bastille's acoustics were from where I was sitting, because that barn didn't look like it was going to sound good. I did have a press seat, and I bet they make sure those are in acoustically favorable locations. At the TCE, I was far underneath a low overhang (3rd row Logen), and that is a recipe for acoustic disaster in just about any theater.

  3. Press seats?!?!? I'm impressed.

    In complete agreement with Musicasola. I commented regarding this when I was in Paris in November (I believe under your VPO/Thielemann review). Appalling acoustics in some parts of Bastille and only OK in others. Horrendous atmospherics but comfy and great sight lines*. TCE great to decent acoustics (for a bunch of Beethoven) but normal "Classical" atmospherics.

    And yeh, Desdemona is a a great role for Renee. My best experience with her was with this at the Met (in 2008) I believe, where she offered a vary favorable contrast with her Violetta from earlier that season.

    Interesting description of the opera in your review. My taste in Verdi is a bit odd in that Boccanegra and Otello are my 2nd and 3rd favorites (way after DC, though). Not coincidentally, perhaps, they are also the ones most frequently undertaken by Germanic-oriented singers (e.g. Janowitz, Jurinac, Peter Sieffert – Otello next year in Munich …and now Harteros who is singing all three in the first half of 2012 – naturally I'll make an epic effort to see as many of these as possible).

    Also Renee's Desdemona is excellent and you might give a listen to her Boccanegra Amelia on YouTube. I read in an interview a couple of years ago that she had considered the DC Elisabetta. Seems to me she would have had more to offer in this repertoire than in some of her other ventures.

    Hope you're having fun. Looking forward to Idomeneo (yippie Kate Lindsey) and Onegin reviews

    Incidentally, BSO in Munich also sub optimal sight lines in certain parts of the Rangs/Balcon

  4. Well, TCE is all about taking good habits, that starts with almost NEVER going to where you are supposed to be seating…
    Once you have decided this, acoustics are fine enough !

    Press seats can be good except in your case (but why to ask for a press seat, meaning on the long term troubles with the local mob, when you can just pay five euros and seize a press seat ?!). After intermission the is always a press seat free (or two, or ten) at the very last ranks of the parterre : acoustics are usually remarkable there, and the seats are exceptionnally nice.

    So these days Boulezian and Zerbinetta, in addition of course to musicasola and myself, are both in Paris. How about meeting all together ?

  5. All this discussion about accoustics and sight lines at the TCE and Bastille got me really flustered now, as we're going to hear Götterdämmerung in 26.6 and Il Postino on 24.6 (you can tell Wagner comes first for MOI)!

    Being frail, blind and rather deaf, we like to sit as close to the stage as possible, ideally on the stage…therefore we are really grateful for your reviews so we know what we've missed :-))!

  6. The acoustics of the Bastille Opera can be awful, it does depend where you are seated. The darn thing is a big flop : it's not only ugly, but it's falling apart too (I've recently had a case recently pitching a building company against a subcontractor, the battle being fought about something getting rusty back in 1988 or so because of improper storage. The joys of law : the building company was first condemned by an administrative court, then had to lodge a civil complaint against the (foreign) subcontractor, which claimed that only the courts of its country were competent. After having its argumentation thrown out by a first instance court, then by a court of appeal, it had the Supreme court squash the ruling of the CoA – so it's back to square one and wondering who the heck is competent to hear the case. Funny, right ?)

    Anyway, I'll be at the LSO/Haitink concert tomorrow (salle Pleyel), like everybody I guess. I don't have anything against a meeting.


    (NOT for being posted : tel +33 6 14 36 61 44 and mail jocchipinti@noos.fr)

  7. Wow, thanks for all the comments! You guys should all have a party at the Salle Pleyel demain, but I'm leaving early tomorrow morning for Amsterdam, for the Herheim is calling. I hope Haitink is good.

    Interesting that the Opéra Bastille is so acoustically variable. I was sitting in Row 18 orchestra, FWIW, and I guess I was lucky. I was possibly also just impressed because the orchestra sounded good and not like the Staatsoper on an average night.

    Brainpack, I have to ask regarding Il Postino: why? But admittedly I was in the minority in really disliking it. I hope you don't agree!

  8. Magnifique Renée Fleming !Retour souverain à l'opéra Bastille !Présence lumineuse, voix somptueuse, la beauté du 4ème acte est telle qu'on n'ose même pas applaudir ! La plus forte émotion de la saison

  9. Is there any possibility of a radio broadcast or telecast of one of these performances? Someone was kind enough to put a few clips on youtube, but I'd love to hear the rest of it since Renee's reviews in this role have all been very favorable.