“THE PARIS OPERA”— Behind The Scenes


Behind The Scenes

Amos Lassen

The documentary, “The Paris Opera” gives us a candid look behind the scenes of one of the world’s foremost performing arts institutions. Over the course of one tumultuous season, director Jean-Stéphane Bron has multiple storylines that include ballet and opera rehearsals, strike negotiations, last minute crises and ticket disputes and through them we see the dedication of the talented personnel run the institution.

 Set in the fall of 2015, director Stéphane Lissner is putting the finishing touches to his first press conference.  Backstage, artists and crew diligently prepare to raise the curtain on a new season with Schönberg’s opera, “Moses and Aaron.”  However, the announcement of a strike and arrival of a 2000-pound bull in a supporting role cause complications. As the season progresses, more and more characters appear, playing out a human comedy in the manner of a documentary Opera.  We meet young Russian singer, Mikhail Tymoshenko, who begins at the Opera’s Academy; he will cross paths with Bryn Terfel, one of the greatest voices of his time.  Choreographer Benjamin Millepied leaves to take over as director of ballet at Palais Garnier.  Then there was the terrorist attack at The Bataclan that plunged the andcity into mourning, the company understood that the show must go on. 

The film is a  fascinating glimpse at some of the behind-the-scenes action during the 2015-2016 season. There were some greatly acclaimed premieres and revivals but there were also more complex issues such as strikes. The Opera has two homes, the historic Opera Garnier and the ultramodern Opera Bastille. We see new director Lissner juggling all his functions from welcoming President Hollande to a performance, stamping opera selections for the season, instructing his negotiators on the strike, and even demanding that they lower ticket prices.

Lissner is just one of the key players here and I must day that I has a bit of trouble following at first because the film is not presented chronologically and there is very little narration. But even with this there are some wonderful scenes here notably those with Terfel and Tymoshenko.

The emphasis here is on the performers and not the performances and this means that the very brief glimpses we see of the operas and ballets are usually from wings.  On the other hand, the cameras focus on some elementary children being taught wind instruments who did not seem to be too happy about the experience.

“The Paris Opera” is even more fascinating to view because we do not see what we typically see in documentaries. It acts as a metaphor for our society in its entirety: a society of contradictions, injustice and, most importantly, compromise. What exactly does The Paris Opera say about our society? 

In the two and a half years it took to produce the film, Bron developed an interest in what went on behind the scenes there and he tried to capture those intimate moments that we don’t always see.

We see the shortness of breath of the dancers as they leave the stage and the somewhat discourteous disagreements between the costume designers as they argue over the sweating performers. Each level of society is portrayed as one of many tiny pieces of a giant puzzle of The Paris Opera.


  • Commentary by director Jean-Stéphane Bron  
  • Interview with director Jean-Stéphane Bro
  • Bonus Short Film:  Les Indes galantes (Directed by Clément Cogitore, France. French w/English subtitles, 6 minutes) — An inspired reinterpretation of Rameau’s opera-ballet via Krump dancing on the Bastille Opera stage.

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