Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
I should start with the information that although we were seeing this show at The Opera Bastille, it was an entirely brand new building, all shiny glass and metal with not even one brick left of the Bastille Prison that used to occupy the site in 1789. No, I didn't know that there was nothing left of the prison before I started doing research for the trip. So I was super sad to find that out. Once I saw the opera house, I was even more disappointed that it looked nothing like the fortress. I know, I'm weird. So here's some background information about the original fortress and its astonishingly benign history.
The Bastille was originally built in the 14th C as a fortress but quickly became a prison for the wealthy/aristocratic people who had offended the king. Under Louis XIV, prisoners were numerous but well-treated. Excerpted from Wikipedia: "By Louis's reign, Bastille prisoners were detained using a "lettre de cachet", "a letter under royal seal", issued by the king and countersigned by a minister, ordering a named person to be held. Louis, closely involved in this aspect of government, personally decided who should be imprisoned at the Bastille. The arrest itself involved an element of ceremony: the individual would be tapped on the shoulder with a white baton and formally detained in the name of the king. Detention in the Bastille was typically ordered for an indefinite period and there was considerable secrecy over who had been detained and why. Although in practice many were held at the Bastille as a form of punishment, legally a prisoner in the Bastille was only being detained for preventative or investigative reasons: the prison was not officially supposed to be a punitive measure in its own right. The average length of imprisonment in the Bastille under Louis XIV was approximately three years."
"Contrary to its later image, conditions for prisoners in the Bastille by the mid-18th century were in fact relatively benign, particularly by the standards of other prisons of the time. The typical prisoner was held in one of the octagonal rooms in the mid-levels of the towers. The calottes, the rooms just under the roof that formed the upper storey of the Bastille, were considered the least pleasant quarters, being more exposed to the elements and usually either too hot or too cold. The cachots, the underground dungeons, had not been used for many years except for holding recaptured escapees. Prisoners' rooms each had a stove or a fireplace, basic furniture, curtains and in most cases a window. A typical criticism of the rooms was that they were shabby and basic rather than uncomfortable. Like the calottes, the main courtyard, used for exercise, was often criticised by prisoners as being unpleasant at the height of summer or winter, although the garden in the bastion and the castle walls were also used for recreation.. ."The medical treatment provided by the Bastille for prisoners was excellent by the standards of the 18th century; the prison also contained a number of inmates suffering from mental illnesses and took, by the standards of the day, a very progressive attitude to their care." Card games and billiards were played among the prisoners, and alcohol and tobacco were permitted. Servants could sometimes accompany their masters into the Bastille, as in the cases of the 1746 detention of the family of Lord Morton and their entire household as British spies: the family's domestic life continued on inside the prison relatively normally." The myth of Voltaire's The Man in the Iron Mask grew out of this period.
Under Louis XV, the Bastille began to change what type of prisoners it held. "The Bastille was essentially a location for imprisoning socially undesirable individuals of all backgrounds – including aristocrats breaking social conventions, criminals, pornographers, thugs – and was used to support police operations, particularly those involving censorship, across Paris. Under Louis XVI, "Between 1774 and 1789, the detentions included 54 people accused of robbery; 31 of involvement in the 1775 Famine Revolt; 11 detained for assault; 62 illegal editors, printers and writers – but relatively few detained over the grander affairs of state. Many prisoners still continued to come from the upper classes, particularly in those cases termed "désordres des familles", or disorders of the family. These cases typically involving members of the aristocracy who had, as historian Richard Andrews notes, "rejected parental authority, disgraced the family reputation, manifested mental derangement, squandered capital or violated professional codes." Their families – often their parents, but sometimes husbands and wives taking action against their spouses – could apply for individuals to be detained at one of the royal prisons, resulting in an average imprisonment of between six months and four years. Such a detention could be preferable to facing a scandal or a public trial over their misdemeanours, and the secrecy that surrounded detention at the Bastille allowed personal and family reputations to be quietly protected."
"The Bastille was considered one of the best prisons for an upper-class prisoner to be detained at, because of the standard of the facilities for the wealthy. In the aftermath of the notorious "Affair of the Diamond Necklace" of 1786, involving Queen Marie Antoinette and accusations of fraud, all the eleven suspects were held in the Bastille, significantly increasing the notoriety surrounding the institution......"most wealthy prisoners continued to bring in additional luxuries, including pet dogs or cats to control the local vermin. The Marquis de Sade, for example, arrived in 1784 with an elaborate wardrobe, paintings, tapestries, a selection of perfume, and a collection of 133 books." He remained there for five years and was finally transferred to the asylum at Charenton July 4, 1789 just 10 days before the storming of the Bastille on July 14 during the French Revolution. He was transferred in part because two days earlier he had incited a riot by yelling out the window that the guards were killing prisoners...they weren't. The French revolutionaries only broke into the Bastille to steal the guns and gun powder that was being stored in the dungeons. Contrary to the popular belief that it held masses of poor people who couldn't pay their taxes, the Bastille only held seven prisoners by that time.
Historian Simon Schama observes how the captured prison "gave a shape and an image to all the vices against which the Revolution defined itself". Indeed, the more despotic and evil the Bastille was portrayed by the pro-revolutionary press, the more necessary and justified the actions of the Revolution became. Consequently, the late governor, de Launay, was rapidly vilified as a brutal despot. The fortress itself was described by the revolutionary press as a "place of slavery and horror", containing "machines of death", "grim underground dungeons" and "disgusting caves" where prisoners were left to rot for up to 50 years." By November of that year, the Bastille had been taken apart to its foundations and sold off brick by brick as memorabilia.
"BAstille DAy" Rush
This was my introduction to the Bastille:
Lyrics: (in case you can't understand Geddy's vocals)
There's no bread let them eat cake
There's no end to what they'll take
Flaunt the fruits of noble birth
Wash the salt into the earth
But they're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Hear the echoes of the centuries
Well, power isn't all that money buys
Bloodstained velvet, dirty lace
Naked fear on every face
See them bow their heads to die
As we would bow and they rode by
And they're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, o choirs of cacophony
Well, the king must kneel to let his kingdom rise
Lessons taught but never learned
All around us anger burns
Guide the future by the past
Long ago the mould was cast
For they marched out to Bastille Day
La guillotine claimed her bloody prize
Hear the echoes of the centuries
Power isn't all that money buys
The Opera building was erected on the site in 1989 on the bicentennial anniversary of the prison's destruction. Here's a photo of it. You'd never even know that a prison once stood here.
Before we go on, just know that this is the first time I'd ever seen La Boheme. I was only passingly familiar with it as the source material for Rent, which I'd only seen staged once. I did google the plot before we went and I had already seen the trailer so I knew it was set in space. Before I saw the production I have to say that I wasn't looking forward to it. As a costume designer, a whole show in space suits just wasn't going to be exciting to me. And for the most part, I hate when directors impose some random "concept" on a show just for the sake of making it different. I like to watch Shakespeare in period costumes because that's what I came there to see. I can see jeans and t-shirts on TV whenever I want. So, yes, the costumes were nothing to write home about, especially since we were sitting in the nosebleed section and I couldn't really see them that well to begin with. HOWEVER, this show was not about the costumes but about the actors interacting with the setting that was MINDBLOWING. If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, then you'll love this version of La Boheme.
Excerpt from the AP Press release on the 2023 revival of La Boheme in space, written by Ronald Blum.
"Claus Guth was pleased with initial reaction to his outer space version of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at a special pre-premiere show limited to people under age 28. “They were extremely euphoric,” he said. “It was an amazing performance with standing ovations.” Three nights later at the official opening of the Paris Opéra’s first new “Bohème” in 22 years, a high-profile occasion featuring conductor Gustavo Dudamel’s formal company debut, the response was far different. “The real premiere was bizarre because some people freaked out so early that Dudamel had to stop conducting once because there was just too much booing,” Guth recalled." That uproar on Dec. 1, 2017, weighed on the German director’s mind when he arrived at the Bastille Opéra last week to supervise the first revival of his staging, which opens Tuesday night for a run of 12 performances through June 4."
Excerpt from blogger, NPW, who saw it on its penultimate performance in 2017:
"This rich year also ended on a high note with Claus Guth’s La Bohème at the Paris Opera. The new production thankfully chucked out the usual dismal garret with its dirty windows - though some people must like gloomy attics and or grimy glass, as the initial reception was mixed. In its place, Guth ingeniously and skilfully meshed the opera plot with Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris*. Four astronauts struggle to maintain an ailing spaceship with spitting, sparking electricals. As they lose contact with Earth, run out of food, power and oxygen and face slow but inevitable death, they slip deeper and deeper into hallucinatory, part-phantasmagorical flashbacks of their former lives. It isn’t always clear who’s real and who isn’t, who’s alive or who’s already dead - Benoît for example, is the already gamey corpse, in a body-bag, of a colleague they play with in a particularly macabre instance of light-headed tomfoolery."....
"This was easily the best Bohème I've ever seen and I hope the management of the Paris opera noticed that by the end of the run there was not a single boo. The ONP has a frustrating and wasteful habit of discarding supposedly controversial productions after a single season - Warlikowski's magnificent Parsifal, for example, has never been seen again and is soon to be replaced. It is not even available on video. This remarkable Bohème reconciled me with an opera I have tended to avoid almost as assiduously as The Magic Flute. I would like to be able to see it again."
No one was booing the night we saw it, so clearly ONP felt that it was deserving of a revival and only six years later.
IN FEW WORDS: From the Opera National de Paris website:
Was it because the writer Henry Murger had himself known such a life during his youth? That would explain the veracity with which, in his Scènes de la vie de bohème, he depicts those half‑starved, struggling artists, ready to burn their manuscripts for a bit of warmth whilst, in an age of triumphant bourgeois materialism, they dream of another life. Taking up these scenes, Giacomo Puccini offers us the heart‑breaking story of the poet, Rodolfo, and the fragile Mimi, and some of the most beautiful pages in the repertoire. The director, Claus Guth, sets their broken love affair in space, creating a universe in which the past resurges in the form of hallucinatory flashbacks. In this surprising setting, Puccini’s music resounds sublimely, highlighting the very essence of the work: memory as the thread that attaches us to life.
Day 126 – 40°45’53’’N 74 – Expedition in danger – off course – engines inoperative – life-support resources almost exhausted – we are working without respite – time is running out – water is rationed – life depends on the last reserves of oxygen – a constant struggle with the darkness and the cold – each day increasingly difficult – last remnants of humour – using our imagination – to evoke times long past.
Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard and Colline. The atmosphere is morose. It is cold and there is practically nothing left to eat. Nevertheless, Schaunard manages to finds a few scraps. Meanwhile, in a stream of words, everyone starts to reminisce and evoke memories of better times. The four friends, having regained a degree of good humour, recall an evening spent in their favourite café in the Latin Quarter. When they evoke Benoît, their former landlord, the latter suddenly appears. They strike up a conversation with him, and then he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Colline, Schaunard and Marcello leave Rodolfo alone for a moment. Mimi appears, in the clutches of a coughing fit... Their hands touch in the darkness... They draw closer. Rodolfo asks Mimi to stay with him.
Day 129 – 41°43’63’’N 54 – Situation hopeless – time fluctuates between states of sleep and wakefulness – Mimi has returned – in the space capsule reality begins to blur – delirium takes root – Mimi, always Mimi – like a spectral dream – dreaming soemtimes transports us back into our past – the happiest times of our lives are revived – moments of exuberance and ecstasy.
Rodolfo and Marcello are overwhelmed by a variety of physical sensations: the crowds of people, the colours and smells of the street. The atmosphere of the city takes over the entire space. They find themselves in their favourite café in the company of Mimi, Colline and Schaunard. In an atmosphere brimming with euphoria, Rodolfo, very much in love with Mimi, buys her a bonnet. Musetta, Marcello’s one-time mistress, arrives accompanied by her new lover Alcindoro. Marcello falls under her spell and can no longer take his eyes off the vision. She makes Alcindoro pay the bill and comes back to Marcello. Just then, an annoying military
Day 132 – 45°47’73’’N 57 – Impossible to continue the voyage – forced landing – our last refuge is lost – attempts to make contact unsuccessful – giant heaps of dust everywhere – dense fog – every outline is blurred – we are at the mercy of the emptiness – our days are numbered – Mimi... – if only I could touch her face again one more time...
Time has passed. The cold, the snow, the emptiness and the isolation take hold over everything. In the distance, we can hear the customs officers inspecting the farmers and the dairy maids. One by one, we catch sight of familiar faces. Mimi arrives. She confides in Marcello: Rodolfo’s jealousy is making her life a living hell. Rodolfo in turn confides in Marcello and reveals the truth to him: Mimi is suffering from tuberculosis and is very ill. He knows that he can only offer her wretched living conditions, and that if they stay together she will die. Overwhelmed by her suffering, he decides to leave her. The two separate but the memory of happier days endures.
Day 159 – 46°77’75’’N 69 – The end – where are we? – No more contact – Death has reared its head – Schaunard and Colline have already lost the fight – solitude is total – acceptance of the situation – I am extremely calm – feverish delusions – nightmares – my life flashes by in isolated images as if on a stage – there is little time left – but Mimi is still here.
Once again, time has passed. Marcello and Rodolfo, trying to overcome their grief in order to continue living, are possessed by the idea of love, women, good food, and the joys of life. Schaunard and Colline appear and everyone engages in a grotesque game: they improvise, vent their passions, fight and then enjoy a sumptuous meal: a bottle of water becomes champagne, a herring is transformed into an exquisite fish. Musetta then reappears with a dying Mimi. Distressed, the others decide to leave Rodolfo and Mimi alone. They reminisce about their first encounter, the happy times they spent together, and promise never to leave each other again. But Rodolfo must let Mimi go… he is alone.
Costume Designer Eva Dessecker
Eva Dessecker has been working since 1992 on the greatest international opera stages (Vienna, Zurich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris, Salzburg). She has been regularly working with the director Klaus Michael Grüber on From the House of the Dead at the 1992 Salzburg Festival, Roberto Zucco and Tagebuch eines Verschollenen as part of the Wiener Festwochen, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Idoménée, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Doktor Faust at the Zurich Opera. She also designed costumes for Pinter’s Le Retour and Tartuffe at the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, Der Rosenkavalier in Antwerp, Jakob Lenz in Stuttgart, Macbeth in Amsterdam and Le Château de Barbe-Bleue / Thème et variations at the Vienna Festival, The Little Match Girl at the 2014 Ruhrtriennale, and Il Trovatore at the Salzburg Festival. In 2016, she designed Manon Lescaut, in Amsterdam. She met Claus Guth for the first time designing costumes for his production of Juliette at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden, and in 2017 was asked to design costumes for his original conception of La Boheme in space.