Which is more important in opera, the music or the words? This question has been posed countless times across the art-form’s 400-year history, but never as elegantly or entertainingly as by Richard Strauss and his librettist Clemens Krauss. Their ‘conversation piece’, Capriccio, makes the perfect starting-point to our own operatic exploration. A stellar cast is led by Diana Damrau as the Countess and Robert Carsen’s highly acclaimed production takes visual inspiration from the iconic surroundings of the Palais Garnier itself.
The Magic Flute is one of the best-known of all operas, but such are the philosophical and emotional resonances of its mysterious story that it offers inexhaustible inspiration to producers. Robert Carsen is fascinated by the piece’s construction from a series of opposites – ‘day and night, love and hate, man and woman’ – and draws on Mozart’s own words about life and death to create a production of moving simplicity. This is the first of three spectacles we witness in the monumental Opéra Bastille, opened in 1989 to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution.
Il Trovatore was first produced in Paris in 1854, the year after its premiere, and has been popular here ever since; Verdi himself supervised the Opéra’s new French version in 1857. Spanish director Alex Ollé locates the story of love, jealousy and sacrifice in the highly charged context of the First World War; the role of Manrico, the eponymous troubadour, is played by the fast-rising Azerbeijani tenor, Yusif Eyvazov.
Our tour ends in spectacular fashion with Lotte de Beer’s new production of Verdi’s Aida, first performed at the Cairo Opera in 1871 to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and superstar German tenor Jonas Kaufmann lead the international cast.
Travel by Eurostar at c. 10.30am from London St Pancras to Paris. Afternoon visit of the Opéra Bastille.
A morning lecture precedes a guided tour of the sumptuous Palais Garnier opera house. Return to the Garnier after lunch for a matinée performance of Capriccio (Richard Strauss), Robert Carsen (director), Marc Albrecht (conductor), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, Diana Damrau (The Countess), Wolfgang Koch (The Count), Pavol Breslik (Flamand), Audun Iversen (Olivier), Günther Groissböck (La Roche), Ekaterina Gubanova (Clairon), Graham Clark (Monsieur Taupe), Christina Gansch (Italian singer), Xabier Anduaga (Italian tenor), Luke Stoker (Major-domo).
Morning lecture, then visit the Jacquemart-André museum, a lavish residence built in 1875 for the banker Edouard André which 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. Free afternoon. Evening at the Opéra Bastille: The Magic Flute (Mozart), Robert Carsen (director), Cornelius Meister (conductor), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Tamino), Tamara Banjesevic (First Lady), Christina Bock (Second Lady), Marie‑Luise Dressen (Third Lady), Florian Sempey (Papageno), Mélissa Petit (Papagena), Nicolas Testé (Sarastro), Wolfgang Ablinger‑Sperrhacke (Monostatos), Christiane Karg (Pamina), Nina Minasyan (Queen of the Night), Martin Gantner (Speaker), Michael Nagl (First armoured man), Franz Gürtelschmied (Second priest), Lucian Krasznec (Second armoured man).
Morning lecture, then drive to Porte de la Villette to visit the Cité de la Musique and the music museum. Lunch is followed by some free time. Evening at the Opéra Bastille: Il Trovatore (Verdi), Alex Ollé (director), Nicola Luisotti (conductor), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, Artur Ruciński (Count di Luna), Marina Rebeka (Leonora), Yusif Eyvazov (Manrico), Daniela Barcellona (Azucena), Krzysztof Bączyk (Ferrando), Élodie Hache (Ines), Yu Shao (Ruiz), Fabio Bellenghi (Old gypsy), Taesung Lee (Messenger).
After a morning lecture, visit the Louvre to explore the connections to this evening’s opera in the Egyptian collection. Free time to explore the rest of the museum. Evening opera at the Bastille: Aida (Verdi), Lotte de Beer (director), Michele Mariotti (conductor), Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, Soloman Howard (The King of Egypt), Elīna Garanča (Amneris), Sondra Radvanovsky (Aida), Jonas Kaufmann (Radames), Dmitry Belosselskiy (Ramfis), Ludovic Tézier (Amonasro), Alessandro Liberatore (Messenger), Gabriella Reyes (High Priestess).
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.
Two sharing: £3,210 or £3,060 without Eurostar. Single occupancy: £3,630 or £3,480 without Eurostar..
Return rail travel (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.
Tickets for 4 performances (3 in Optima (top) category, Aida in first category) are included costing c. £630.
Hotel Villa Beaumarchais: a 4-star hotel, located on a quiet street, a short walk away from the Opéra Bastille and Marais district. 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 FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.