The Participants
Theater, etc.
Museums & Estates

Le Barbier de Séville
(Opéra Bastille, 120 Rue de Lyon, M: Bastille)

Beaumarchais's play was made into an opera by the Italian composer Rossini. Performed in the controversial Opéra Bastille, the opera is a stunning whirlwind of humor and deceit; the story comes alive with the aid of fabulous costumes and beautiful sets. The stage director was the filmmaker Coline Serreau.

"Two great composers, Mozart and Rossini, wrote operas inspired by episodes of Beaumarchais' theatrical trilogy. Mozart chose Le Mariage de Figaro, while Rossini chose Le Barbier de Séville. We had the pleasure of seeing Rossini's masterpiece in the modern Opéra Bastille, under the baton of the Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Le Barbier de Séville is a wonderful opéra-bouffe, which charmed me with its playful arias, its sparkling orchestration and the intensity and energy of its composition." (CC)

"This was our first performance of the trip, and it was fun to see everyone dressed up for the show. I was vaguely familiar with Rossini's music after listening to a recording from the MIT Music Library, but having the story acted out was a new experience. The mise en scène was recently designed, and the setting was vaguely Arabic. There were a a few amusing quirks, including a portable barbet kit for Figaro that came equipped with flashing blue lights. Although the production was quite lively, however, I still couldn't help nodding off (briefly!) during the first act.

The opera building itself is very modern, and the acoustics were excellent; the singers' voices carried strongly to our seats on the first balcony. It was a large building, though, and it took a little while to figure out what all the numbers on our tickets meant: one for the floor, one for the door to enter by, one for the row, and one for the seat.

Unfortunately I forgot to buy a program during intermission, and by the end of the show they had stopped selling them." (JM)

La Belle et la toute petite bête

(Salle Favart, 5 Rue Favart)
This mix of opéra comique and comédie musicale tells the story of a dame who lost her amour (lover) ten years ago, and she has been searching futilely for another love. Her path miraculously gets intertwined with a cynical but compassionate dwarf. This magical and silly comedy reveals how a Belle can fall in love with a Toute Petite Bête.

"While this wasn’t one of my favorite spectacles (shows), I still enjoyed it. It is what the French call an opéra comique. The opera is a modern-day adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, but nothing like the Disney version (although it did have some allusions to Disney in it). At first, I figured it would be a tacky comedy show with singing somewhere in the mix. But it was actually not tacky, and the singing wasn’t too bad (except for “la Belle,” whose voice can get annoying). I actually felt like I was younger, enjoying the caricature-like characters and the clichéd storyline! The only part I really disliked was the seats at the Opéra Comique – they were built for people who were obviously smaller than me!" (OJ)

Read Le Monde's review of La Belle et la toute petite bête.

Le Pharmacien de Garde
This French drama is a must-see if you like suspense and intricate plots. It tells the story of an ecologist/pharmicist who believes that he should purify the world of evil people to make it a beautiful place. The movie is full of complicated love-hate relationsips. Vincent Perez stars as the psychotic pharmicist while Guillaume Depardieu (Gérard's son) takes the role of the troubled flic (police officer) trying to stop the murders.

"This psychological thriller, though at times a weak copy of Seven, was an entertaining way to pass the evening. Devoid of the blatant violence characteristic of American movies, it instead explored the complex
love-hate relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist. Unfortunately, the story was overly ambitious and too many issues, both emotional and practical, were left unresolved at the end of the movie. I do, however, at least appreciate how the film left me thinking as I left the theater (or at least thinking twice before making another trip to the pharmacy)." (TK)

La Cantatrice Chauve and La Leçon
(Théâtre de la Huchette, 23 Rue de la Huchette, M: St Michel)
These are two short comic plays by Eugene Ionesco. La Cantatrice Chauve is a parody on the English society and the unspoken rules of social interaction. It is a lively play that features comic outbursts and ridiculous sarcasm. La Leçon, on the other hand, starts out as a jolly comedy and spirals into a terse commentary on the abuse of power. It features a tutor who repeteadly abuses his power over students. Playing in the same theater for 50 years, these two plays have clearly become French classics.

"La Huchette is a small theater in the Latin Quarter that has presented Ionesco's first two plays without interruption since 1957. Eugene Ionesco was 32 years old when he left his native country Romania in order to establish life with his family in Paris. Six years later, La Cantatrice Chauve ("The Bald Soprano"), his first play - or his first anti-play as he called it - was performed for the first time. One year later, in 1951, he wrote his second play, La Leçon ("The Lesson"). I enjoyed these two plays a lot, and I was impressed by the complexity of their message. La Cantatrice Chauve, whose source of inspiration is in part the author's experience with foreign language textbooks, is not only a satire of the superficiality and incommunicability of a society frozen in meaningless formalities, but also an inquiry into the meaning of theater in a society turned upside-down by World War II. The second play we saw, La Leçon, is at least as complex as La Cantatrice Chauve, and it represents a pleading against totalitarianism, against collaboration, against manipulation of women by men, and against an unreformed educational system." (CC)

"This duo of short plays by the francophone playwright Ionesco has been continuously featured at the Théâtre de la Huchette for fifty years, yet the seats were all filled for the performances we attended. Clearly, Paris has not tired of the shows, and it’s easy to see why: the acting sparkled with vivacity, adding a necessary element of physical humor. The chemistry between the actors was particularly evident in La Leçon, as the easy rapport between the professor and his student dissolved into a disturbing fit of frustration. This was dark comedy at its finest: absolutely horrifying and hilarious at once." (TK)

C'était Bonaparte

(Palais des Sports, M: Porte de Versailles)
This spectacle follows the life of Napoléon up until he became Emperor. With 600 costumes and 100 actors, it is a show on a grand scale. Cannons go off, troops march, love letters are written and countries conquered, all within the span of a few hours.

Cirque d'Hiver
(110, rue Amelot, M: Filles du Calvaire)
Le Cirque d'Hiver is the oldest-running circus in the world. It was a venue for many spectacles during the 18th century, and was eventually baptized cirque by Napopleon III in 1852. It features complicated trapeze acts, horse and sea lion tricks, comic shows, and various other interesting features.

"The circus was a spectacular experience. To tell the truth, I was
slightly embarrassed when walking in and seeing all those little children.
The only adults that I saw were accompanying their kids. The ventriloquist wowed the crowd as he ingeniously set up a skit with 4 voices. The walruses, horses, and dogs performed some really cool tricks like riding in different formations or flapping their fins (applauding the crowd). In that room, it felt like I was 7 years old again and I loved it." (AN)

Le Dindon
(Salle Richelieu, 2 Rue de Richelieu, M: Palais Royal)
Le Dindon is a comedic play that satirizes the complex sexual relationships amongst friends. The current showing is directed by Lukas Hemleb at the legendary Comédie-Française.

"This was my first experience at la Comédie-Française, and it was just impeccable: the acting, timing, delivery, scenery, and music were all perfectly executed ; the precision alone was almost entertainment enough. The mise en scène was modern, and the stage consisted of intersecting regions of hardwood floor with walls at adjustable angles. At a few occasions during the first act, the walls would begin to turn slowly, either opening the stage or closing it off to reflect the emotional state of some character. Another neat touch: M. Soldignac was accompanied by a musical jingle that played each time he said, "Business is business"; this was, in effect, his personal theme song. We sat in the fist row of the second balcony, and the view was certainly all-encompassing (if distant). The theater was lavishly decorated, with plush red seats and gold accents. Between the theater, the mise en scène, and the audience, it was an elegant evening all around." (JM)

Rire et Chatiment (Laughter and Punishment)
This just-released French comedy is a parody on the Doestoevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. The premise is a jolly chiropractor who does not know when to stop telling jokes, and eventually begins to literally kill people with laughter. The film was directed by Isabelle Doval and also stars Isabelle Doval and her real-life husband José Garcia.

"What a boring, trite movie. It's true I missed several jokes that must have been funny, judging from the French audience's reaction, but most of it seemed Americanized comedy-drama overkill. One can tell from the first scene that José Garcia, the main actor, is clever, excited, and immensely funny. The problem is not as much him as it is the storyline, which is simplistic and somewhat confused. But the theater, at a UGC joint in basement -3 of Les Halles, a somewhat shoddy Parisian megamall, was top-notch. Why doesn't the US have bathrooms right in the theater? Never mind the smell. The seats were luscious and you could get sweet popcorn as well as salty. Don't forget your Coca Light. It's worth going at least once to one of the big chain movie theaters, but also check out the smaller, less commercial cinemas that feature more sophisticated French and international film." (CG)

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