The Paris Opera
The Palais Garnier has graced the ninth arrondissement since 1875, dazzling onlookers with its ornate beaux-arts facade and gilded statuary honoring the fine arts. To Parisians it is known simply as “L’opéra,” the historic home of the world-renowned Paris Opera and the birthplace of classical ballet. In this captivating documentary, Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron takes audiences inside one of the world’s great performing arts venues for one season, revealing the complex artistic collaborations at its heart. Covering two performance spaces—the Palais Garnier and its newer sibling, the Opéra Bastille—this film illuminates the backstage bustle of the Opéra National de Paris and the scores of artists, financiers, administrators, and patrons who make the whole endeavor possible. Through the company’s tireless director Stéphane Lissner, the glories and peculiar challenges of working in such a legendary setting are detailed: Can the production designer safely get a 1200-pound live bull onstage during a performance of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron? How far can ticket prices be lowered to combat the perceived elitism of the opera? Is Bryn Terfel available for a last-minute substitution in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg? A sense of barely contained chaos descends as labor unions strike, a precocious young bass-baritone debuts, and tensions arise between the corps de ballet and their improbably named choreographer, Benjamin Millepied. All the while, an army of polyglot chorists, stage managers, wig stylists, linen pressers, and makeup artists help shape the much-lauded performances that leave ballerinas and maestros alike sweating and exhausted, collapsing in the wings.