14 April 2017.
L’OPÉRA (The Paris Opera) **** (vo French)
How is it to run an opera house, especially one as prestigious as the Opéra de Paris? In fact it is two opera houses: the grand old Garnier and the modern Bastille. With 1600 employees and a budget of more than €200 million, it does not only perform operas and concerts, but also ballet, with a corps of more than 150 dancers.
This latest documentary, by the Lausanne-born Jean-Stéphane Bron whose previous works have included the excellent “Mais im Bundeshuus – le génie helvétique” and “L’expérience Blocher”, goes behind the scenes of this venerable establishment to give us a first-hand feel of the passion, conviction and difficulties involved in operating such an institution. It’s a mini-universe working towards one goal – the perfection of a performance.
His camera goes into every corner, from the laundry, the wig department and makeup, to the meetings and offices of the Opera’s director, Stephane Lissner, who seems to remain serene under the most trying circumstances, such as balancing the unions with the restrictions of the state, or replacing a star tenor two days before opening night. There is a moment when Lissner is on the phone with someone from the government, trying to convince them of the importance of working with the unions – Bron follows his every expression and reaction with just the right tempo of background music. It is like a scene from an opera, and it’s simply brilliant.
Bron gives us the impression we are everywhere, especially with the artists, around the genial Swiss orchestra conductor, Philippe Jordan, or the difficult choreographer, Benjamin Millepied. You will be asking yourself “how was he there, and how could he capture that?!”, for he takes us into the very heart of the opera, its personalities and its workings – making us almost breathless with wonder and anticipation. In Bron’s year-and-a-half immersion into making this film, there are also the ballet dancers – in the most exquisite and arduous of the arts, and then the singers, particularly one young newcomer, Mikhail Timoshenko from Russia, as we follow his amazement and delight at belonging to such an institution.
This is documentary at its purest and finest, with instinctive actuality and excellent editing, that inspires respect for and understanding of the subject. Not to miss if you care about music, dance – or running an enterprise!
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.