In September 2011 I paid all of five Euros and got the next-to-last standing room ticket for the premiere of the opera Salomé by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). This was the first performance of the 2011-2012 opera season.
The standing room tickets are not sold in advance, but go on sale an hour and a half before show time. I arrived twenty minutes before that, and there were already two or three dozen people waiting in line at the door labeled places debout – which literally means “places upright”. When they finally let us in we had to wait again until one of the two vending machines (second photo) was free. A distinguished-looking gentleman in an usher’s uniform organized this and also helped people operate the machines, which were a bit finicky.
The easiest and quickest way to coax a ticket out of one of the machines is to have five Euros in coins, which I didn’t have, so I had to use my bank card. The machines do not accept bank notes (not even five-euro notes) and do not give change.
There is one row of standing room on each side wall of the auditorium (third photo). I could see only about half the stage from there, but the acoustics were excellent. The house was nearly full, but not quite, so some of the people with standing room tickets managed to find seats that were not occupied.
Since Salomé is a relatively short opera it didn’t bother me to stand the whole time. It was a fine performance, with Angela Denoke in the title role. They sang the opera in the original German, not in the French version that I had seen in Liège, Belgium, three months before.
Second photo: The two ticket vending machines for standing room.
Third photo: Looking across from one row of standing room to the other.
Fourth photo: Looking down from standing room at the other (more expensive) seating categories.
Fifth photo: View from the top floor of the Opéra Bastille, with the Panthéon, Tour Montparnasse, Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
Next review from September 2011: Louis XIII at the Place des Vosges
This magnificent new opera house was built in the 1980s and inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It is one of two large venues run by the Opéra National de Paris, the other being the Opéra Garnier.
Between these two venues they manage to put on 380 full-scale opera and ballet performances per year. In the 2005/2006 season they sold 89.5 % of the available tickets for the opera and 83.3 % for the ballet.
Unlike most German opera companies, they do not have a permanent ensemble of singers, but hire the singers separately for each production. They do have a permanent orchestra and chorus, though. The orchestra has 170 members and is often divided into two halves, known as the green and blue orchestras, when two different productions are on the schedule at the two venues.
Second photo: The Opéra Bastille from the front.
Third photo: "Raise the anchor of your emotions" was their motto for the 2006/2007 season.
Fourth photo: At the stage entrance on Rue de Lyon there are hardly any bicycles parked, unlike what you would see at a German opera house.
Fifth photo: The ticket office at 130 rue de Lyon.
• Operas at the Bastille
• Guided tour of the Opéra Bastille
• The Square of Gavroche's Elephant
The only way to have a look at the backstage areas of the Opéra Bastille (unless you have business there) is to take a guided tour. These begin at 5.00 pm on some afternoons. The dates are not listed on their website, but there is a list at the box office or you can call +33 (0)1 40 01 19 70 to find out. Tickets go on sale ten minutes before the tour at window A of the box office, 120 rue de Lyon. Tickets cost 11 Euros, or 9 if you get a reduction.
The tours are in French, basically, but on the tour I took there was a young Asian couple that didn't understand French, so our guide repeated the main points in English. And he apologized profusely to the three Italian ladies that he couldn't do it in their language ("the language of opera, after all").
We started out by descending six floors (by escalator) to the lowest level, thirty meters below street level.
Second photo: From the lowest level there are huge elevators to bring things up to the stage.
Third photo: The workshops are huge compared to those in most opera houses I have seen. In fact everything about the Opéra Bastille is huge: the area at ground level is 22,000 square meters, and the total height is eighty meters, including the thirty meters below street level.
Fourth photo: One of the storage areas at stage level, with the same dimensions as the main stage.
Fifth photo: Part of the stage set for Wagner's Lohengrin, ready for use on the following evening. All the performances of Lohengrin were sold out, by the way, even though the large hall of the Opéra Bastille seats 2703 people.
The first opera performance I saw here was La Damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). There is some controversy about whether this is really an opera -- the composer called it a "dramatic legend" -- but it certainly seemed like an opera they way they staged it here at the Bastille. They used stunning lighting and video effects, as well as large groups of perfectly synchronized dancers and acrobats. And musically it was first-rate as well, right up there with the two CD versions of it that I have at home.
Very different but just as good was the performance of L'Elisir d'amore by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), which -- as I mentioned in my Place des Vosges travelogue -- was the opera I saw on my last evening in the city after meeting two young singers at the Place des Vosges.
Second and third photos: The Bastille Opera has 2703 seats (1571 downstairs, 518 in the first balcony, 516 in the second and 98 in the galleries), and they claim you can see and hear perfectly well from all of them. I can certainly confirm that this is true of the two seats I have tried in different parts of the hall, and I have no reason to doubt that the other 2701 seats are just as good.
Fourth photo: Taking their bows at the end of La Damnation de Faust.
Fifth photo: People outside in front of the opera house after the performance.
There is a persistent urban legend about American tourists going to the Place de la Bastille and feeling cheated when they discover that the Bastille Fortress isn’t even there any more.
Perhaps this has really happened at one time or another, but I think most tourists from all over the world are aware that the Bastille was destroyed during the French Revolution after being stormed by the people of Paris on July 14, 1789, for which reason July 14 is still celebrated every year as the French National Holiday.
From 1812 to 1846, the Place de la Bastille was dominated by a bizarre monument, a huge elephant, twenty-four meters high, made of wood and plaster. This elephant was Napoleon’s idea. He wanted it to be made of bronze melted down from cannons captured in battles by his victorious armies. But just to show what it would look like, he first ordered a full-scale mock-up made of wood and plaster to be made and set up in the center of the square.
The bronze version was never made, but the wood-and-plaster mock-up stood in the center of the Place de la Bastille for thirty-four years. With each passing year it got more and more bedraggled. The plaster started to crumble and the hollow spaces inside were infested with rats.
At one point it was discovered that a young boy was sleeping inside the elephant at night. This discovery was worth a few lines in the Paris newspapers, under the heading faits divers for miscellaneous curiosities, and these reports gave Victor Hugo the idea of using the elephant as the secret home of the street urchin Gavroche in his novel Les Misérables.
Today the Place de la Bastille is a huge open square – not in the shape of a square but more of a sloppy circle – in which motor vehicles careen around wildly at high speeds with no semblance of order. It will be interesting to see when, if ever, the mayor and the city administration finally work up the nerve to rearrange the square and calm the traffic.
The July Column, in the middle, is generally not accessible because of all the motor traffic. This column commemorates the events of July 1830, which resulted in the fall of King Charles X of France and the beginning of the reign of King Louis-Philippe.
The magnificent new Paris opera house, the Opéra Bastille, was inaugurated on July 14, 1989, on the two hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. I have so far posted three tips/reviews about this opera house, namely: L'Opéra Bastille, Operas at the Bastille and Guided tour of the Opéra Bastille.
La Bastille refers to Chastel Saint-Antoine, a 14th century castle that occupied the location of place de la Bastille, at the eastern edge of the Paris city wall. The castle, which later became known as la Bastille, was used for defensive purposes until the 17th century, after which it was converted into a prison. It gradually became a symbol of the oppression by the French royal regime and was therefore a primary object of attack during the French Revolution of 1789. Soon after the revolution, under the new order, the castle was demolished and was turned into a large spacious square as part of the grand urban planning project of the 19th century. A monument to commemorate the Revolution was placed at the centre of the square and crowned with a guilded sculpture called Génie de la Liberté (Spirit of Freedom), by the sculptor Augustin-Alexandre Dumont.
On our July 2011 trip to Paris we stayed in the 11th arrondissement, one of the squares that we would pass on our way here or there was the Place de la Bastille. The prison known as the Bastille no longer exists, it was destroyed during the French Revolution after the infamous storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
In the center of the square there is the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) which commemorates the events of the 1830 July Revolution. The column is engraved with the names of the Parisians who died in the Revolution, it is topped with a winged gilded figure, the Genie de la Liberte (Spirit of Freedom), who holds the torch of civilization in one hand and broken chains in the other.
The Place the La Bastille is one of the bigger Paris squares (actually a round-about).
Until the French revolution the Bastille Saint-Antoine was located here. That building was demolished in 1789. In the pavement of the square the contours of the building are shown in different colours stones. A part of the old fundaments still are vissable in the Bastille métro station.
At the South of the square the Canal Saint-Martin is visible. This waterway goes undernath the square as well.
At the East side the new Opéra Bastille was build as on the location of the former Gare de la Bastille train station.
At the center of the square the Colonne de Juillet is located.
The July Column, known in French as Colonne de Juillet, which commemorates the events of the July Revolution of 1830 stands at the centre of the Place the la Bastille.
The column is composed of twenty-one cast bronze drums, weighing over 74,000 kg.
It is 47 meters high and has an interior spiral staircase.
The base has white marble ornaments with bronze bas-reliefs, of which the lion by Antoine-Louis Barye is the best-known.
The column is engraved in gold with the names of Parisians who died during the revolution.
On the top is a globe on which a colossal gilded figure stands.
That figure is the "Génie de la Liberté" (the "Spirit of Freedom") by Auguste Dumont.
Bastille square was familiar to me many years before our visit to Paris due the protests that took place here in the 60s and I still remember a greek song with lyrics that say something like “from Bastille, students’ hearts start…)
At the same spot once stood the Bastille Fortress that was made by Charles V in the 14th century to protect the east end of Paris during the 100 years War. Of course, it became famous after the war when it turned into a prison and got burnt on 1789 when the French Revolution started.
There’s nothing really to be seen here (the fortress/prison demolished), there’s always traffic because it is major roundabout for the cars but of course there’s a monument in the middle. It’s the tall July Column with the “Trois Glorieuses” refereeing to the 3 glorious days of parisians’ revolution (july 27-29, 1830), the names of those who died during the revolution are engraved in gold on the column. It’s 47m high and has a spiral staircase inside. The square itself is 215m x 150m
We always prefer to visit Bastille square late in the evening because the area is full of pubs, clubs, asian restaurants, full of people that go out to have fun. For those who love opera the Opera Bastille is also located there. It was built in 1989 with a capacity of 2700 people. What I recently learned was that the St.Martin Canal runs under the base of the column!!
There is nothing now left of the Bastille Fortress that once stood here - originally built during the Hundred Years War as a fortress extension to the St Antoine gate to defend the east end of Paris, it was reused after the war as a state prison, and was famously stormed on the 14th July 1789, marking the start of the French Revolution. It was demolished by the November of the same year.
41 years later Paris again rose in revolt and overthrew the monarchy of Charles X; the column now in the centre of the square commemorates the 'Trois Glorieuses', the three glorious days of revolution of the 27, 28 and 29 July 1830.
This square famous for its memories of the Revolution. Here stood the massive fortress built under Charles V between 1370 and 1382. It later became a state prison.
In the center of the square is the July Column, built between 1831 and 1840 in memory of the Parisians in July 1830.