Message to spectators of The Nutcracker on Friday 8th and Sunday 10th December at the Opéra Bastille
Message to spectators of The Nutcracker on Friday 8th and Sunday 10th December at the Opéra BastilleRead more
“À jardin” and “à cour” refer to the left and the right sides of the stage respectively when facing the stage, in the auditorium.
These expressions allow artists, technicians, stage managers and the production team, (the director, conductor, choreographer and set designer etc.) to understand each other and talk about the same left and the same right when referring to blocking, entrances and exits on stage.
The terms appeared in the 18th century during rehearsals taking place at the Théâtre des Tuileries where on their right the actors had the cour (court) of the Tuileries Palace and the jardins (gardens) on the right. Before the French Revolution, the terms Côté Roi or “King’s side” and Côté Reine, the “Queen’s side” were used, each of them having a box situated to the right and left of the stage respectively.
Today, now that there are no longer King, Queen, court or garden, various mnemonics are used to get one’s bearings:• For the performers on stage, the coté cour is where the heart or Cœur is situated.
The Boite à sel is the counter situated in the foyer of theatres and operas where spectators go to pick up their tickets.
This counter, often raised up to make it easy to spot, gets its name from the smelling salts placed there by the doctor on duty to revive ailing spectators when required. Its origin goes back to 1852 when the prefet, or Commissioner of Police, decreed the presence of a doctor obligatory at every theatrical performance.
Indeed, many over-sensitive ladies fainted during melodramatic performances of sensational Gothic-style theatre productions, and even puppet shows merely from the effects of a corset too tightly laced... In 1927, the presence of a doctor was limited to theatres of more than 800 spectators.
Opera Bastille, inaugurated in 1989, also has its boite à sel, situated to the left of the main entrance, even if today, the use of smelling salts has disappeared.
Although at the Palais Garnier, the doctor on duty, in case of need, collects his first aid kit directly from the firemen at the safety point, at the Opéra Bastille, it is kept at the Boite à sel. The staff give it to the doctor at the same time as his/her complimentary ticket.
"Case" is a term specific to the Opéra Bastille.
These compartments form the wings of the stage and are square-shaped areas located on each side of the stage and behind it.
They allow sets to be easily removed, stored and switched in order to alternate different productions over the same period.
The first theatre stagehands were former sailors. They had the strength and agility to manoeuvre the machinery.
As a result, in the theatre, numerous technical terms and superstitions originated in the navy or from life at sea. Among them is the capstan which is a winch with a vertical axis used to heave the anchor or the rigging.
At the Opera, the capstan has a horizontal axis. Counterweights were used to raise the sets, thus reducing the effort required to do so.
The weight to be moved corresponded to the (weight of the set) – (the weight of the counterweight). Using this system, stagehands could make pieces of the set appear and disappear (painted canvas, trap door and platform…).
The automation of stage equipment systems led to the end of the use of capstans. Nevertheless, in 2012, a production of Hippolyte et Aricie was performed on the stage of the Palais Garnier using capstans the “old-fashioned” way.
The word, as in the expression “sujet étoile” (star dancer), appeared as early as 1895, without, however, being defined.
Initially qualifying the terms “sujet” and “premier danseur”, doubtless to highlight the exceptional qualities of the artists who had attained this standard (having reached the highest rank, the star shines with a thousand lights).
Its use seems to have become generalised in 1897, as testified by Joseph Hansen’s ballet, L’Étoile. In the libretto, the heroine, who is supposed to be the best dancer, is referred to as the “first dancer”, the “star” of the Opera.
The title of Étoile first appeared in the Paris Opera registers in 1938 with the nomination of Suzanne Lorcia. The first to officially receive this title were Lycette Darsonval and Solange Schwartz in 1940 whilst Serge Peretti became the first man to be nominated Étoile in 1941.
In the hierarchy of the Paris Opera Ballet, this is the supreme accolade awarded to dancers. A dancer is named Étoile in the aftermath of a performance by the Opera Director and at the suggestion of the Director of Dance.
Today, the Paris Opera Ballet has 10 female and 7 male Étoiles. They are the crowning glory of the traditional annual Ballet parade, to the applause of the faithful, ballet-going public.
In 1995, the choreographer Jean-Claude Gallotta offered the dancers of the Paris Opera his work, Les Variations d’Ulysse, for the stage of the Opéra Bastille.
The stage flies, which were the same size as the opening of the proscenium arch made it impossible to install the drops (or side drops)—large pieces of black or white velvet that allow performers to enter on stage whilst also concealing the wings.
As a result, large frames 4 to 5 metres wide and equal to the height of the visible stage had to be built. These were covered in black or white fabric and fixed on rollers. Positioned on each side of the stage, these enabled the dancers to enter unseen on stage.
It was only natural that they should be named after the choreographer—and they are still being used today in other productions.
As attested by Honoré de Balzac and Théophile Gautier, the figure of the rat is among the animal metaphors that the Romantics held dear (once his studies were completed, the rat became a “tiger” and sometimes a “panther”.
For Emile Littré, the word could be a truncated form of the expression “demoiselle d’opéra” (young lady of the opera) who was known as a “ra”.
According to another explanation, “petit rat” has its origins in the noise made by the pointe shoes of the young dancers on the wooden floors of the rehearsal rooms situated in the attics of the Paris Opera.
The “little rat” is a young pupil at the Paris Opera Ballet School who takes lessons and performs in ballet productions. Formerly housed at the Palais Garnier, s/he is now trained in the building designed by Christian de Portzamparc in Nanterre.
“They are only to be found near the Rue Le Peletier, at the Royal Academy of Music, or near Rue Richer, at the ballet class; they exist but there; you will seek the rat in vain over the entire surface of the globe. Paris possesses three things that all other capitals envy her: the street urchin, the seamstress and the rat.”
– Le Rat, Théophile Gautier.
At the Paris Opera, Premier danseur represents the second highest grade in the Ballet hierarchy, above the ranks of Sujet, Coryphée and Quadrille. As such, it is the final level before ascending to the title of Étoile Dancer.
Jean-Georges Noverre, the Director of the Ballet of the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris and considered by many to be the inventor of modern ballet, introduced the related term “premier sujet” in 1803. At that time, it designated the highest rank in the troupe and would only be surpassed by the title Étoile at the end of the 19th century.
Within the Opera, promotion to the rank of Premier danseur is established by an annual competitive examination which includes a freestyle variation and a compulsory variation. The attribution of the title is determined by the decision of a jury which includes the Opera’s Dance Director. The Company currently has eleven Premier danseurs.
At the Opera, a rehearsal “à l’Italienne” is a purely musical rehearsal, with no acting or blocking. The singers are often seated and it is generally the first time they rehearse with the orchestra.
This rehearsal allows the conductor to adjust the balance between the different voices and the orchestra and to check that everybody knows the score and their arias.
The expression comes from theatre and refers to a complete or partial run of the text, without movement or blocking. It’s an exercise designed to help memorise the text, particularly the dialogues between the characters. The expression “à l’Italienne” would seem to evoke the rapidity with which Italians speak.
The "Sorbonne" is located in the Paris Opera's painting studio. The name is evocative of knowledge and great thinkers and it naturally spurs us to think of the artists’ savoir-faire and their command of colour…
The reality, though, is quite different. Indispensable in any place where varnishes and solvents are handled, the Sorbonne is an industrial extractor—or a ventilation and extraction booth—which allows these materials to be used safely.
It was recently removed as nowadays, the painters and set designers use little if any paint with solvents, which means that all that is now required is basic protective equipment.
Even so, if the extractor has gone, the space where the various paints and paintbrushes are stored still bears its name. As a result, you can still go to the Sorbonne without leaving the Opéra!
After travelling throughout Europe to study the great theatres, Charles Garnier had the stage of the Palais Garnier built on a gradient in order to establish an ideal relationship with the auditorium.
Sloping with a 5% incline from upstage (the furthest point from the audience) to downstage (the area closest to the public), this so-called “Italian style’” stage enabled audiences, particularly those seated in the stalls slightly below the stage, to have a better view of the singers and dancers at the rear.
At the Opéra Bastille, there is no sloping stage! As a result, when, dancers and singers perform at the Palais Garnier they have to learn to master the famous incline, renowned for being less than easy to “re-ascend”.
When he took over as the Paris Opera’s Director of Dance, Rudolf Nureyev had a stage installed in the Marius Petipa Studio at the Palais Garnier with a slope identical to that of the theatre’s main stage to enable the dancers to rehearse in the conditions in which they would eventually be performing.
The stage of the Opéra Bastille’s future modular performance space (2023) will also have a 5% incline. And let’s not forget the furniture and set components which need to be designed to take account of the incline… or reworked in the case of a co-production or rental involving a theatre without an Italian-style stage.
The term “tessitura” refers to all the sounds that can be expressed by a particular voice in a homeogenous manner. Four main categories define the different vocal typologies.
Soprano represents the highest tessitura of all. More often than not, it is comprised of female or children’s voices.
• Altos are the female voices in the lower range.
• Tenors represent the highest pitch of the male tessitura.
• A baritone has a range that falls beneath a tenor and is the most common type of male voice.
• Finally, a bass voice represents the deepest of the four pitches. Within the chorus, they form the harmonic foundation of the ensemble.
A tetralogy literally designates a group of four related works. According to the ancient Greeks, it is a collection of four dramatic plays.
In music, the Tetralogy is a direct reference to the work of the German composer Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The cycle, inspired by Germanic and Norse mythology was the fruit of almost thirty years of research and introspection.
The opera is comprised of a “a prologue and three days”: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The entire performance of the work takes from thirteen to eighteen hours, depending on the conductor.
The Paris Opera presented a French version of the complete cycle for the first time at the Palais Garnier in June 1911. It would be performed in German for the first time in 1955 with Hans Knappertsbusch conducting.
Considered now as the emblematic costume of classical ballet, the tutu first appeared during the 1830s at the Paris Opera.
In La Sylphide, a ballet by Philippe Taglioni, first performed at the Paris Opera in 1832, the ballerina, Marie Taglioni, appeared for the first time in a long, white, gauzy dress.
Little by little, this “romantic” tutu was shortened and became more voluminous until it became what it is now the most widespread model, that of the short tutu. Prepared in the soft fabrics workshop at the Palais Garnier, the tutu à cerclette, or classical tutu, became the hallmark of the Paris Opera style.
From 1983 onwards, with the arrival of Rudolph Nureyev as director of dance at the Paris Opera, the pancake tutu, known as the English-style tutu was, in its turn, favoured.
The term “tutu” has three possible origins: it may refer to the double layer of tulle required to make it; it may come from a childish word for bottom (cul-cul) or from a smutty expression used by certain regular patrons of the opera: “panpan tutu” (smack-bottom).
Back to top