PARIS — For the previous yr, opera lovers worldwide have had little alternative however to revisit favourite productions and performances through their screens at residence, however the singers, musicians and dancers on the Paris Opera have continued, all whereas making their peace with pandemic life. Three members of the corporate described their experiences.
The Chorus Master
For José Luis Basso, refrain grasp on the Paris Opera since 2014, not even France’s penchant for strikes had ready him for the government-ordered lockdown imposed right here on March 17 final yr.
“From one day to the next, we found ourselves stuck at home,” he recalled in a phone dialog. “It was dramatic. A singer needs to practice and vocalize every day, and that’s not so easy in a city like Paris where you have neighbors and building rules. So out of a certain despair, they did these little videos as a way of expressing their anguish about being without work.”
For probably the most bold video, Mr. Basso, who rehearses and generally directs the group, introduced collectively 52 of the refrain’s 110 members to document particular person movies of “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” The performances had been spliced collectively, renamed “To Say Thank You” and devoted to well being and different frontline employees. Then, in September, following a brief discount of infections in France, the refrain was known as again to the corporate’s two theaters, the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille.
“At first there was real fear, almost hysteria, about passing on the virus,” Mr. Basso mentioned, “but people are more relaxed now. No operas were programmed in the fall, so we began preparing for the new productions of ‘Aïda’ and ‘Faust,’ which involved a lot of work since the chorus plays a big role in both operas.”
Despite a second wave of infections, which started within the fall and continues, “Aïda” and “Faust” have now been staged and streamed, with all however the lead singers carrying masks. “At first we didn’t know what masks to use,” Mr. Basso mentioned, “but eventually we opted for two — one for walking around the theater and another for singing that allows projection of the voice and understanding of words.”
Yet, with some medical specialists saying that we should be taught to reside with Covid, even when “normal” opera performances resume, masks onstage and within the orchestra pit will not be disappearing quickly. “I’ve asked myself,” mentioned Mr. Basso, 55, who in June returns to the San Carlo opera home in Naples, Italy, to grow to be refrain grasp, “in the future will our choral work have to be like this?”
Valentine Colasante, 32, a prima ballerina on the Paris Opera Ballet, was enormously relieved when classes from her standard lecturers resumed, albeit on-line, as quickly because the lockdown started. “This enabled us to keep up our routines,” she defined in a phone interview, “with morning classes for coaching, dancing, muscle strengthening, and in the afternoon more specific exercises. This also meant we were in good physical condition when we could resume work.”
That got here in September when the ballet corps returned to its residence on the Palais Garnier, though it’s nonetheless not allowed to carry out earlier than a full home. Rather, as with opera productions, performances of “La Bayadère” in December, the annual gala in January and “Le Parc” this month had been recorded for rebroadcast. “One is very aware that there’s no one there,” Ms. Colasante mentioned, “But you try to adapt like everyone else who’s having to work online.”
Covid precautions have additionally required carrying masks for rehearsals and for the gala’s “Ballet Parade.” “It’s the only solution we have if we want to keep on training,” she mentioned. “When some very intense effort is called for, we can remove the mask, but we keep them on most of the time. It’s restricting, but it means we can return to the Palais Garnier to train. We are artists and we have to be ready when things return to normal.”
Like members of the Paris Opera refrain and orchestra, the ballet firm discovered its personal method of claiming “merci” to well being and different frontline employees. In this case, some 60 dancers had been invited to improvise at residence — in kitchens, halls or gardens — to a passage from Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” Using smartphones, they recorded themselves or, as in Ms. Colasante’s case, had been recorded by a companion. The film director Cédric Klapisch then edited their strikes into an enthralling four-minute, 39-second video.
“Everyone was very enthusiastic about doing this as a sincere homage to health workers,” mentioned Ms. Colasante, who seems briefly in a purple dressing robe. “I think we all wanted to convey our emotions, to share what we were living through, to tell a story with our bodies. And I have my own four minutes as a permanent record for myself.”
With final March’s lockdown coming quickly after a prolonged strike on the Paris Opera, “we were already spending too much time at home,” Nicolas Chatenet recalled. Still, resigned to a brand new stoppage of maybe three months, because the opera’s first solo trumpeter he determined to make good use of the time “to do what I couldn’t do when I was in the orchestra.”
So when orchestra members determined that they, too, would make a video devoted to well being employees, he was desirous to take part. “We wanted to do something that would convey musically and emotionally how we at home were feeling about those who were working,” Mr. Chatenet, 35, defined.
The query of what to play was resolved when the orchestra welcomed a brief piece known as “Storm” that Mr. Chatenet had composed in 2014 for a brass ensemble. After a colleague orchestrated and trimmed the rating, there got here the problem of recording 71 instrumentalists reside on smartphones.
“I thought we’d have to help the sound, but we were astonished that it sounded really good,” he mentioned. Images of nurses, docs, hospital wards and ambulances had been then spliced into the ultimate video known as “After the Storm.”
In the summer time, restrictions on actions had been relaxed, and Mr. Chatenet joined the opera orchestra for a reside Bach live performance in September and two concert events of Richard Strauss and Schönberg in October earlier than a restricted viewers and below the baton of the corporate’s outgoing music director, Philippe Jordan.
The orchestra’s principal scheduled occasion for the 2020-21 season, nonetheless, was Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. When a deliberate stage manufacturing directed by Calixto Bieito was canceled by Covid, the cycle was broadcast on the radio, once more carried out by Mr. Jordan. Mr. Chatenet’s unhealthy luck was to catch the virus on the music conservatory the place he teaches, and he was compelled into isolation simply when his trumpet ought to have been sounding the “Ride of the Valkyries.”
His probability to rejoin his orchestra got here final month with “Aïda.” “It was strange to be together again,” he mentioned, “to recapture the feeling that we had when we played together every week.” But though Mr. Chatenet by no means stopped training, the break introduced an surprising plus. “We have a 7-month-old baby,” he mentioned, “so it’s given me a lot of time to get to know her. I was pretty lucky about that.”