Friday, May 5, 2017

Off to Paris with the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet

On the steps of the Palais de l'Elysees (l. to r.): Charles Selden, Charlotte Saint-Arroman, Jean-Yves Kaced, RuthAnn McSpadden, Mary Sprague, Patricia Selden, Ellen Levitt, Olivia Flatto, Donna Corbat, Shen Wei, Laure Vienot-Tronche, and Albane de Chatellus.
by Jeffrey Hirsch (JH)

In late April, my wife Danielle and I joined the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet
(AFPOB) for a three-day Patrons trip to Paris. Considering my wife is a true lover of the ballet, the fact that I am a fan of the opera, and the reality that the Paris Opera & Ballet is the perfect union of each discipline made the experience impossible to pass up.

The American Friends of the Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest "Friends of" organization. It was incorporated in 1984 when Rudolf Nureyev, then director of the Paris Opera Ballet, decided to tour in the United States (after over 40 years of absence) and needed a support system to connect with local organizations, patrons and the art community in New York.
We flew La Compagnie, an all-business class transatlantic 757 airline out of Newark. It was clean and efficient, and save the lack of personal storage space (everything had to be stowed in the overhead bin) made for a pleasant flying experience.
The goal of the AFPOB is to share the many treasures of the Paris Opera directly with the American public and to foster artistic cooperation between the Opera National de Paris and the creative community here. Additionaly, AFPOB organizes high end and intimate events in New York and Paris, bringing together French and American patrons. The organization has always had a prestigious roster of Trustees and Chairmen, among them Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and David Rockefeller.

These three magical days in Paris included a private tour of the Palais de l'Elysees, a "complete experience" at the Opera Bastille, a tour and luncheon at Palais du Luxembourg with the supremely charming French Senator Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, a working rehearsal of the Paris Opera Ballet, the company performing American Masters with an intimate dinner to follow with Stephane Lissner (director of the Paris Opera), and a private visit to the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art; all culminating in a Gala night at the Palais Garnier in homage to Yvette Chauviré, one of the 20th century's most dazzling prima ballerinas.

Considering the extensive nature of the trip, I am splitting my coverage into three days.
Arriving Le Bristol on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Walking through the lobby ...
And up the famous glass and wrought-iron elevator designed in 1929.
A welcome note and a selection of financiers. I later learned that the word "Financier" comes from the rectangular mold which resembles a bar of gold.
A bottle of Evian and a pot of coffee to start our day. I would soon discover that Paris "Seine" water is actually better than today's New York water.
A quick snack before meeting the AFPOB patrons. The butter is always served at room temperature. Parfait.
The beautifully proportioned and perfectly cut vegetarian club sandwich at Café Antonia, named for Marie Antoinette, at Le Bristol.
Although I had already spoiled lunch, the first activity on the itinerary was an opening lunch at Lucas Carton. En route, I caught a glimpse of my first Paris landmark, L'église de la Madeleine, at the end of rue Royale.
Restaurant Lucas Carton, one of the very first gourmet restaurants opened in Paris, and still one of the city's best. It is listed in both the Michelin Guide and Relais & Chateaux.
The arcade alongside Lucas Carton. "These arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are glass-roofed, marble-paneled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need." — Illustrated Guide to Paris, 1852
After lunch and an exchange of greetings and salutations, the group headed straight to Le Palais de l'Elysées for a private tour. The official residence of the French President since 1848, the Élysée Palace was built in 1722. And although it has undergone many modifications over many years it remains a fine example of the French classical style — harmonious proportions inherited from Antiquity and its symmetrical compositions.
At the front entrance to The Élysée Palace on Rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré: Charles Selden, Patricia Selden, RuthAnn McSpadden, Mary Sprague, Ellen Levitt, Donna Corbat, Shen Wei, Laure Vienot-Tronche, and Charlotte Saint-Arroman.
Jean-Yves Kaced, Albane de Chatellus, Olivia Flatto, and Charlotte Saint-Arroman.
The group assembling in the Cour d'honneur.
The Palace seen from the Cour d'honneur.
The Vestibule D'Honneur is where the president greets the heads of foreign states. The candelabra in the corner (there are two) was added by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The original building did not have a staircase off the first floor so in 1806 the Escalier Murat was constructed. At the top of the landing stands Rodin's La Defense.
Olivia Flatto in front of Arman's Hommage à la Révolution française (Tribute to the French Revolution). It was commissioned by President Mitterrand for the vestibule in 1984 and comprises 200 white marble flags.
The vestibule is illuminated by a chandelier with 30 lights.
Looking into The Vestibule D'Honneur from the adjoining Salon des Tapisseries.
Laure and Patricia posing in the Salon des Aides-de-Camp. The fireplace is a replica of the fireplace in Louis XIV's bed room at Versailles.
Looking down at the carpet, which is from the Tuileries Palace. This salon is used for the Élysée's official lunches and dinners (23 people max).
Looking up at the crystal Montgolfier chandelier.
The Salon des Ambassadeur, where the president traditionally receives foreign diplomats.
A Louis XVI ormolu mantel clock with a dial which shows the month, moon phases and zodiac signs. The clock depicts the moment when Zeus sends a thunderbolt causing Phaeton to fall to his death.
Salon Pompadour, the former state bedroom of Madame de Pompadour. In 1753, Louis XV purchased the Palace (known as Hôtel d'Evreux at the time) for her to use as a place to stay while visiting Paris.
The Salon Murat. In 1805 the palace became the official residence of Joachim Murat, the Governor of Paris at the time, and his wife Caroline, Napoleon's sister. Today, the room is used every Wednesday by the President for meetings with the Prime Minister and Cabinet of France.
Donna Corbat finds a keepsake. The console dates back to 1819 and is adorned with porcelain decor from the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres.
Details, details, details. Next to the bust of Marie Antoinette is a book about Madame de Pompadour. "If there must be a mistress, better her than any other," so said Queen Marie.
Looking back through the enfilade of rooms. Salon des Portraits is located at the corner with direct access to the terrace. I believe this room served as President Sarkozy's private study.
The official palace silversmith showing us one of 20 different sets of China the palace uses. Christofle, perfectly polished of course, is the official supplier of silver.
Looking out towards the private apartments, located in the eastern wing of the palace.
We caught a glimpse of President Hollande's black Labrador, Philae, waiting for papa. The last five French presidents had Labs.
The Winter Garden was built in 1883 as a greenhouse. Although it's no longer used as a greenhouse, orange trees are kept there as a reminder of its former use. Today, it's used for official banquets.
One such banquet was taking place that evening.
The Salle des Fêtes is used for official ceremonies, state dinners and receptions.
The room set up for a ceremony taking place later that evening.
The catering staff in preparation for the evening's affair.
Next stop: backstage at the Opera Bastille to discover the workshops and rooms where hundreds of craftsmen bring the production sets to life.
En route to the Opera Bastille, I spotted a 1961 VW Notchback Cabriolet. Quite the rare car it turns out as I soon discovered that there were only 16 prototypes built by Karmann for testing & promotion purposes.
Reflections of Paris.
A Bouquiniste along the banks of the Seine.
Inaugurated in 1989, the Opera Bastille not only hosts one of the largest stages in the world but also a massive backstage structure and an extensive community of craftsmen from 50 different trades. We were taken on a very special tour through the sets, décor and design workshops before enjoying the new production of a the rarely seen Russian opera "Snow Maiden."
The Opera Bastille, designed by Carlos Ott.
The main auditorium seats 2,745 people. The glass ceiling, which mimics the appearance of natural light, is a thing of beauty.
The orchestra pit at its largest can house 130 musicians.
A look at the stage of the new production of "Snow Maiden" by Nikolaï Rimski-Korsakov.
Danielle opening the hidden door to take us backstage.
The picnic table, which was used in the production later that evening.
Backstage at Opera Bastille.
The massive fire doors back stage. Eight firemen are kept on duty during each performance.
Fully assembled sets are kept in one of the many storage areas. This set is for Onegin.
Laure and Danielle in front of one of the oversized chandeliers, which was used for the Paris Opera Ballet's Grand Defile at Saturday night's gala and tribute to Yvette Chauvire.
Passing under another fire door.
A piece of the prison from the set of Don Carlos.
Storyboards come to life ...
Another work area with costume and accessory workshops above.
Our wonderful guide, Jean-Jacques Serres, without whom we would never have found our way out. He is the Opéra's sole tour guide authorized to take visitors backstage.
Stage lighting stands.
Trompe-l'œil six floors under ground.
More scenery temporarily stored between the stage.
Looking up at the main stage from the clearing zone a floor below. The stage is made up of 9 elevators which can move the scenery up and down from below the stage.
The backstage elevator. "Pavarotti has used this elevator!" our guide shared with great exuberance. Notice the elevator indicator light. We are SIX floors below ground!
Back in our seats, the stage is set for the "Snow Maiden" featuring Aida Garifullina, Rupert Enticknap, Martina Serafin, Ramón Vargas, and Thomas Johannes Mayer.
Back outside facing the Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille prison once stood until the "Storming of the Bastille."
Crossing the Seine.
Passing the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris.
Back at Le Bristol, time for bed.
Part II coming on Monday ...