It's not quite summer here yet, but we're starting to enter that particular end-of-year winding down period as the school year heads for a close. This includes lots of year-end parties and shows for the kids' schools and activities, as well as the last performances of whatever theater subscription we've taken out during the year.
Which means last week was our last visit to the Ballet de L'Opera National de Paris. We ended our subscription -- the ballet itself has shows through mid July -- with José Martinez' "Les Enfants du Paradis," based on the Marcel Carné film with a script by Jacques Prévert. "Les Enfants du Paradis" is a major French classic, although I admit I remembered more about the circumstances surrounding the making the film (during the Nazi occupation) than the plot itself. The story takes place in the 1820's and 30's revolves around Garance, a theater actress, and the various men who love her: the sensitive mime Baptiste, theater star Frédérick Lemaître, the criminal Lacenaire, and the wealthy Count de Montray.
I'm not always the biggest fan of story ballets, since I spend a good part of the time trying to figure out the plot. (Which I wouldn't have to do if I would spring for the 12 € program, but I maintain that this should actually be included if you're shelling out for top price tickets. But I digress...) So in this case, it was helpful to have a general idea of what was going on. In any case, the details of the story are less important here that the relationships and, of course, the dance.
"Les Enfants du Paradis" is the first major work by former danseur étoile José Martinez, whose carnivalesque "Scaramouche" I enjoyed last year. That earlier work shares some DNA with this one, as they are both colorful, theatrical, large-cast ballets. Martinez goes even further with the theatricality here, having jugglers and acrobats in the lobby of the Opera building, bringing orchestra musicians onto the stage, adding in a mini performance by Frédérick Lemaitre during the intermission, and generally blurring the lines between the show and the audience. In essence, we are spectators not just of the Opera, but of the Théâtre des Funambules, where Garance, Frédérick and Baptiste perform, and therefore part of their world.
Martinez does an impressive job moving the action around to the various locations and is especially adept with the street scenes and the shows-within-the-show. As Baptiste, Mathieu Ganio was as moving, poetic presence and Karl Paquette a charming, charismatic Frédérick. Garance was played by Laëtitia Pujol with beauty and grace, although she perhaps lacks the sexual charisma to explain why so many men are so drawn to her for so many years.
Although it is a bit lengthy, this is actually a good show to bring children to as they are sure to be charmed by the gorgeous costumes (by former étoile Agnès Letestu) and the cinematic sets by Ezio Toffolutti. The original music is by Marc-Oliver Dupin could have come right out of the 19th century (I mean that as a compliment).
So, farewell, Opéra. At least until September. Despite my bitching about the raised prices, we renewed our subscription for next year, a program that includes Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Anna-Teresa de Keersmaeker among others. With talent like that, in addition the amazing dancers and stunning venue, how could we resist? Oh, Opéra, I just can't quit you...