I was swept off to the opera on Saturday night. I’d always wanted to see the Traviata, ever since I was a small girl looking up at Julia Roberts on the big screen in her lovely crimson gown peering down over the balcony with Richard Gere at her side, tears streaming down her checks. That moment when the opera soprano hits that piercing top note and Julia (and I) got goose bumps.
This weekend I got my wish.
I wasn’t dressed in a long crimson gown. There was no Lear Jet involved nor was there a borrowed $250,000 ruby and diamond necklace. But what-the-heck, I got to see with my own eyes Violetta hit that note. And what a note it was.
Sitting in the balcony of the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, an ancient theatre in a risqué (interesting side note: this actually means risky in French) part of Paris, I saw the best theatrical performance I’ve seen since I moved here. No kidding. We go to the theatre at least once a month, sometimes twice or more, so I have a certain experience when it comes to Parisian theatre. And this production, this revisiting of Verdi’s classic opera was simply stunning.
Modern, in a good way, this version of the Traviata was not only gorgeous (the incredible use of flowers and web like cloth/toile) and unique (the musicians played part in the scenes strumming their instruments as they walked around and mingled like guests), but simple. Rather than the normal extravagance that we expect from the Opera, this was a play with exquisite musical accompaniment. I shouldn’t have been surprised given the cast and direction.
Young and brilliant.
Mettre en scene, Benjamin Lazar, is known for his talent in setting a scene, arranging the fresque so that the spectator feels as if they are watching a series of paintings float delicately past our eyes. Soprano, Judith Chemla (Violetta), was gifted with an extremely gorgeous voice. But 30 years old, she has already been part of the Comedié Française, a mark of excellence in French theatre, and has an effortless voice unparalleled in my humble experience with opera. She was seconded by Damien Bigourdan (Alfredo), who is as handsome as his voice is breath-taking. Their notes bellowed in perfect symmetry through the circular theatre and captured my heart.
Not just the performances. The theatre itself is a masterpiece. Originally a café-concert in the 1870s, the theatre had been abandoned and dilapidated for many years and was ready for demolition in the 1950s. Saved, thankfully, by an Italian entrepreneur in the late 1960s, the theatre was restored by England’s Peter Brook in the early 1970s. Today the building has that wonderfully rustic, still partly suffering from a hard youth, spectacular circular-protruding stage, paint-chipping away look that is as purposeful as it is atmospheric.
If you happen to be Paris right now or at some point until Oct 15, may I suggest an evening at the theatre !