28 March 2006
Here is a book which I cannot recommend enough to anyone who is interested, whatever their title might be, manager, unionist, artist, minister, journalist, etc, in the life of the Opéra de Paris. It is both a historic account of the various methods employed to manage our first national, choreographical and lyrical stage, since its creation by Louise XiV until the Mortier era, and an analysis of the successive ways in which it has been run, from its concession to its reclamation by the republican State after the second world war. It demonstrates that the Opéra de Paris has remained an essential factor in political and cultural prestige in all the French regimes, from royalty to the Empire and still in the Republic.
The things that will really fascinate anyone interested in the fate and the future of this great institution, are the trends that the authors unmask throughout their colourful story in relation to its operation, such as the division of funding between the State and the private sector, as governments and sovereigns have never been disinterested in the work of this "thermometer" of national intellectual and artistic life. The majority of the 320 pages are dedicated to the technological and industrial revolution embodied in the construction of the Bastille Opera House, as well as the work of the man who managed to tame the beast, Hugues Gall, between 1995 and 2004.
This man, in effect, defined the optimum conditions for a reasoned utilization of this bizarre complexe, made up of two theatres which are completely heterogenous, both in their dimensions and in their technical operations: The old Palais Garnier with room for 1,800 spectators and the modern Bastille Opera House with it's 2,700 seats. The authors demonstrate and analyse the subtle balance between Hugue Gall's scheduling at the two locations, which was designed to maximise the overall profitability. State subsidies not being available, it is up to the director to make as much money as possible from ticket sales. Without taking sides, they suggest with the aid of well researched illustrations that Hugues Gall's successors do not have much room for manoeuvre, other than changing the financial contribution made by the State.