I/we, both of us, have a list of things we’d like to do. I am not going to call it the bucket list because that seems a glass-half-empty sort of label. I’ll call it the Live Life List. Anyway splashing out on going to the Palais Garnier to see an opera was on the list. Palais Garnier was the setting for the novel “Phantom of the Opera” and its musical and film adaptations. We had developed a liking for opera at home so my dearly beloved had beavered away on the internet ages ago buying tickets as soon as they were available for Julius Caesar (Giulio Cesare) by Handel. Most opera events put on by the National Opera de Paris are staged at the Opera Bastille so we didn’t want to miss this.
Friday night, all scrubbed up, we pitched up to the Opera House for the spectacle. Popping up out of the metro we negotiated the route up the front steps picking our way through the crowd sitting listening to an impromptu outdoor concert and into the Palais Garnier. It’s all smooth marble floors and brilliant chandelier lighting, perfect to highlight anyone tripping on the stairs – no I didn’t thank goodness, but I did take great care not to. I didn’t want to become the spectacle.
Adding to the sense of the occasion, our seats turned out to be right at the front in a little box to the side of the stage on the second level toward the back of the theatre so we had an excellent view of the stage and the auditorium itself. Everything about the theatre is, well, “oh là là”. The artwork on the ceiling, painted by Marc Chagall is glorious, and especially so with the chandelier fully illuminated.
The opera itself was wonderful; great stage setting, voices, and music played by Le Concert d’ Astrée and directed by a very energetic woman Emmanuelle Haïm. It’s a long opera (4 hours including intermissions), and we were engaged the whole time; no elbow nudges required.
All in all a lovely evening, including a glass of (outrageously expensive) bubbly at one of the intermissions – it was a special, listed event after all.
Recounting my visit to the opera en français at my French-English conversation group (WICE) we got into an entertaining discussion about “kicking the bucket”. The equivalent French idiom is Passer l’arme à gauche, (to pass the weapon to the left) or casser sa pipe (to break his/her pipe).
The origin of the “pipe” idiom is unclear and there are a few explanations for l’arme à gauche, all of military origin. Possibly it dates back to 17th century where to load their weapons soldiers were required to shift the weapon to their left in order to use their right hand comfortably. Doing this required several movements and took time which made the soldiers very vulnerable – hence it became synonymous with being about to die!