What does it matter what you say about buildings? Is it possible to be fascinated by a building without thinking it very good, or even without knowing whether it is good or not? I’m not talking about the architectural equivalent of a guilty pleasure, a treat which would have to be triple-Z grade lousy indeed to cause genuine shame in a time in which you can watch Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Cinemathèque Française. I’m talking of course about the Opéra Bastille, a building which this sentence will not even attempt to sum up.
What does it matter what you say about buildings? Est-ce qu’il existent des bâtiments mauvais ou médiocres qui nous fascinent quand-même? Je ne parle pas des “guilty pleasures,” une tendance devenue si quotidienne qu’on peut voir Plan 9 from Outer Space à la Cinémathèque Française. Je parle, bien sûr, de l’Opéra Bastille, une édifice qui résiste à chaque tentative de la décrire ainsi.
Although Wagner, never able to give up his bitterness over the failure of Tannhaüser, may have taken nothing but bitter memories of Paris to his grave, his later music, including the Ring, enjoyed a devoted and extensive following in France. At last year’s Bard Festival André Dombrowsky explored the popularization of his music through simplified piano arrangements for domestic use, and Larry Bensky discussed Wagner’s role in Proust’s life and imagination. The French can look back to distinguished tradition in Wagner production, and today Wagner is as alive in Toulouse and Lyon as it is in Paris. Nonetheless, productions of the Ring have been rather sparse at the Paris Opera: the first, sung in French translation and conducted by André Messager, did not occur until 1911 (Rheingold 1909). The second, this time in German and conducted by one of the most authoritative German Wagner conductors, Hans Knappertsbusch, came forty-four years later, in 1955! There was Peter Stein production of Das Rheingold in 1976 under Solti, which never developed into a full Ring Cycle. The Ring production initiated by this Rheingold is a historical first, as the first production of the work for the Opéra Bastille, which opened in 1989, and the first complete Ring by the Paris Opera since 1957. With a German production team and a Swiss conductor, Philippe Jordan, 35, who is now concluding his first season as Music Director, the Paris Opera continues its post-war tradition of gathering its Wagnerian talent east of the Rhine. (It is worth noting at this point that Pierre Boulez, one of the great living Wagner conductors, has never conducted the Ring in his native France.)
It was a childhood case of chicken pox which first introduced me to the Tour de France. The year was 1989, fortunately a very choice vintage indeed, in which Minnesota's Greg Lemond clawed back 58 seconds between Versailles and Paris to defeat the hapless Parisian ex-dental student Laurent Fignon. I remember my confusion, a common response among those new to the Tour, as to which of the two was actually the Frenchman.