Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Street Opera in Le Marais, Paris

On a balmy afternoon on the 28th of May, I found myself ambling rather ambiguously into the Marais district, known for its architecture, culture, ethnicity and trade.  I soon noticed hearing a deep alto voice soaring over the city's noises, singing opera of all things, so I let the music guide my steps to see what was happening.  Paris, indeed France, at times gets its priorities right. They may not spend much on the military (Germans say that French tanks have five gears, four of which are for reverse) but they do know how to make city life fascinating and cultural.

I had accidentally come across an unusual and fascinating cultural project—portable opera. The lead singer had a Baroque-style white wig and a dress that was so outlandish I first thought it was a guy in drag. The baby-C grand piano was mounted on car tires, along with the accompanist’s stool, so the piano/pianist could be pushed down the street while playing and suffer few bumps from the cobblestones. The pianist and pageturner seemed dressed for the caberet.  A large set of four speakers was mounted on a pole attached to the piano, broadcasting the miced piano and singer.

After a crowd gathered, the singer called out most invitingly, and perhaps 80 grade school children came marching out to the music in pairs, left-right left-right, big grins, their doting parents lined up with cameras.  The next thing I knew, police blocked off the very narrow streets in Le Marais and the opera procession was underway, singing triumphantly as the Pied Pipers wended their way down this street and that.

The procession stopped at an appropriate plaza, where we were treated to excerpts from Carmen, “Toreador” and a love aria or two, with children and people joining in at the right places because, after all, Carmen is one of France’s favourite operas.  This launched a week celebrating the arts in the 4th district.  This is Paris.

How could I resist shooting this one?

People in cafés only meters removed were either amused or just ignored it all.  There was so much happening that I felt free to take pictures almost at will. 

This being Paris and nearing the conclusion of the football season, what could be better than listening to operatic excerpts while watching an impromptu football match?