Below the proscenium arch of Paris’s magnificent Palais Garnier hangs a drape bearing the inscription ‘Anno 1669’ and an image of the sun. This is a permanent reminder to the city’s opera-goers that the Académie d’Opéra – later renamed the Académie Royale de Musique, but generally known simply as ‘the Opéra’ – was founded by the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV, inaugurating an unbroken performance tradition unmatched anywhere in the world.
The Opéra is marking the 350th anniversary of the company (and also the 30th anniversary of its newest house, the Bastille) with a new production of arguably the greatest of all French operas, Berlioz’s Les Troyens. The presence in the cast of leading French singers Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Cassandra), Véronique Gens (Hecuba) and Stéphane Degout (Chorebus) will guarantee that Berlioz’s lyrical melodies are delivered in idiomatic style. Meanwhile, Russian director and designer Dmitri Tcherniakov will ensure that his epic retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid is searchingly re-examined, making for an unforgettable culmination to our tour.
A little over a century ago, Paris witnessed a musical revolution when Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premiered Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the newly built art deco Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. At that theatre we will watch the Ballets de Monte Carlo pay tribute to Diaghilev with recreations of four of his most celebrated productions: Le Spectre de la Rose, Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune, Petrouchka and Daphnis et Chloé, the last set to Ravel’s most sumptuous score.
Robert Carsen’s highly acclaimed production of Dvořák’s beautiful Rusalka, with Finnish superstar Karita Mattila in the role of the Foreign Princess, and a new dramatic realisation of an oratorio from the era of the Sun King, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Primo Omicidio, conducted by Belgian baroque specialist René Jacobs, complete a musical programme that celebrates the rich diversity of Paris’s peerless musical history.
Travel by Eurostar at c. 10.30am from London St Pancras to Paris. An early evening lecture and dinner preceeds an evening performance at the Palais Garnier: Il Primo Omicidio (Scarlatti), René Jacobs (conductor), B’Rock Orchestra, Kristina Hammarström (Cain), Olivia Vermeulen (Abel), Birgitte Christensen (Eva), Thomas Walker (Adam), Benno Schachtner (Voice of God), Robert Gleadow (Voice of the Devil).
Return to the the sumptuous Palais Garnier opera house for a guided tour. Some free time before a late afternoon lecture and dinner. An evening opera at the Opera Bastille: Rusalka (Dvořák), Susanna Mälkki (conductor), Robert Carsen (director), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra national de Paris, Alessandro Di Stefano (chorus master), Klaus Florian Vogt (Prince), Karita Mattila (Foreign Princess), Camilla Nylund (Rusalka), Thomas Johannes Mayer (Water Goblin), Ekaterina Semenchuk (Jéžibaba), Danylo Matviienko (Voice of a Hunter), Jeanne Ireland (Kitchen Boy), Andreea Soare (First Nymph), Emanuela Pascu (Second Nymph), Élodie Méchain (Third Nymph), Tomasz Kumiega (Forest Warden).
The morning is free for independent exploration. In the afternoon a lecture followed by a drive to Porte de la Villette to visit the Cité de la Musique concert hall, designed by Christian de Pontzamparc, and the music museum. Dinner preceeds an evening performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées: Daphnis et Chloé, Le Spectre de la Rose, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Petrouchka, performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Choreography by Jean-Christophe Maillot, Marco Goecke, Jeroen Verbruggen and Johan Inger to music by Ravel, Von Weber, Debussy and Stravinsky, with Kazuki Yamada (director) and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo.
Morning lecture followed by a visit to the Jacquemart André museum. This lavish residence, built in 1875 for the banker Edouard André, houses the collection he made with his wife, Nélie Jacquemart, a painter. It contains a fine collection of 18th-cent. paintings, Dutch, Flemish and Italian masters. Lunch is included before an early evening opera at the Opera Bastille: Les Troyens (Berlioz), Philippe Jordan (conductor), Dmitri Tcherniakov (director), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra national de Paris, José Luis Basso (chorus master), Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Cassandra), Michèle Losier (Ascanius), Véronique Gens (Hercuba), Bryan Hymel (Aeneas), Stéphane Degout (Corebus), Christian Helmer (Panthus), Thomas Dear (Ghost of Hector), Paata Burchuladze (Priam), Jean-Luc Ballestra (A Greek Captain, A Trojan Soldier), Jean-François Marras (Helenus), Sophie Claisse (Polyxena), Elīna Garanča (Dido), Aude Extrémo (Anna), Cyrille Dubois (Iopas), Bror Magnus Tødenes (Hylas), Christian Van Horn (Narbal), Tomislav Lavoie (A Trojan Soldier), Bernard Arrieta (Mercury).
The morning is free before the Eurostar to St Pancras, arriving at c. 2.45pm.
Dr Michael Downes
Director of Music at the University of St Andrews, musical director of St Andrews Chorus, Scotland’s largest choral society, and founding artistic director of Byre Opera, which mounts fully staged productions each summer around Scotland and Northern England. He writes programme notes for Wigmore Hall and Aldeburgh Music and reviews music books for the Times Literary Supplement, and his publications include a highly praised study of contemporary British composer Jonathan Harvey.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,670 or £2,500 without Eurostar. Single occupancy: £3,040 or £2,870 without Eurostar.
Return rail travel (first class, Standard Premier) by Eurostar from London to Paris; private coach for transfers; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 3 dinners and 1 lunch with water, wine, coffee; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Music & ballet
Tickets to 4 performances are included, costing c. £520. At the time of going to print not all tickets were confirmed. Accommodation
Hotel Édouard 7, Paris: comfortable 4-star hotel, five minutes on foot from the Opéra Garnier. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
One of the performances is reached on foot. Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. There are some late nights but starts are leisurely. You need to be able to lift your luggage on and off the train.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'To have four excellent and yet different musical experiences in four days was wonderful.'
'This was the most enjoyable tour I have ever done from every aspect. I had not seen or heard these works before and each theatre was beautiful.'