Chapter 28 – (Part 1) Thirteen years in Paris — Arne, opera and more

Dancer in Ariane Mnouchkine’s play Agamemnon at le théâtre du Soleil, alas not with Arne  (cover on photo booklet sold at the performance)

When I think of our thirteen years in Paris, what comes back to me more than anything else is my stepfather Arne’s rather frequent visits form Sweden. My visit to Helsinki when Arne had a very serious heart attack is part of the story about my much beloved stepfather.  Arne died in 1986, the year we moved to Genas, close to Lyon. I went alone to his funeral, probably because of our animals and the need to babysit them in Paris.

Arne’s visits were always accompanied by theater, opera and good restaurants. If we just stayed home we most likely had something interesting for dinner since both Arne and John were pretty good chefs – and John is a very good one. Arne cooked his own version of sweetbreads one time in Paris at rue Jean-Marie Jégo and I still remember that he put a bit of cayenne pepper on top. I am not very fond of cayenne pepper but it was done discretely and his culinary feat was very much appreciated.

We very soon concluded that Arne preferred to go to a restaurant of his own choosing. So rather than going to Chez Allard (two stars at one time, later one star) in the 6ème arrondissement, we tried to go to restaurants that had been recommended to him. In one case I believe it was Arne’s good friend from his childhood, Lars Schmidt, Ingrid Bergman’s last husband, who at that time lived in a château south of Paris. Ingrid had then moved to an island that she owned close to Fjällbacka, Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden. Lasse, as Arne always referred to him by his Swedish nickname, owned a couple of theaters in Paris, and he always gave Arne tickets for the three of us to the Théâtre Montparnasse in rue de la Gaîté, where we went several times when Arne was in Paris. It was usually good, and I remember a performance with the excellent actress Annie Girardot in the role of “Madame Marguerite” by Roberto Athayde, a one-person show. This kind of show might seem risky, but Annie Girardot carried it off with bravura. This was apparently already in 1974 and possibly Arne’s first visit with us in Paris.

The performance was a tour de force by this excellent actress, all alone for a couple of hours on stage playing a school mistress in front of her 6th grade class. “”Mais, cette “Leçon” va être complètement baroque : tour à tour absurde, tragique, cynique, comique.” 1 Annie Girardot was splendid, a very memorable evening for the three of us, even though Arne didn’t understand much of her French flood of tempestuous words, and I don’t suppose John and I got all of it either.

_________________

Arne’s and my culinary experiments had started in the fall of 1953, my first term at the university in Lund when I lived at home. Mother, sadly, was in a clinic after a breakdown. Arne and I quite often enjoyed eating gourmet food. Veal kidneys and sweetbreads were some of our favorite experiments. Calf’s liver was a more common delicacy. Oh yes, and Wienerschnitzel, veal cutlets first dipped in eggs and then in bread crumbs, served with a slice of lemon, an anchovy and a few capers – delicious if cooked right. We invited Arne’s very best friend from his youth, Curt, an army afficer  who was then the head of Ystad regiment, a colonel at the time. He  was going to go very far.

Once he was invited for dinner with his family, wife and two sons. I don’t remember what Arne and I had cooked up that time, but it was a very pleasant evening. A couple of more times Curt came over alone, and I remember those evenings well. Curt was a true charmer and when he laughed with his eyes sparkling from  sheer joy he was irresistible. One Wienerschnitzel evening  stands out in my memory.  Arne and he had been close friends ever since high school, Nya Elementarskolan in Stockholm. and they now went over old memories. I can still see Curt laughing heartily and contagiously. I was quite smitten.

___________________

Now, Arne’s childhood friend, Lars Schmidt, was most likely also responsible for what must have been one of our most memorable culinary experiences in Paris during all those years. The restaurant was an old-style restaurant in the 3rd arrondissement, Chez l’Ami Louis, close to la Place de la République. It was the most memorable Paris restaurant visit I can remember. It was most likely thanks to Lars Schmidt that we found our way to this historic restaurant in the heart of old Paris, the quartier of the Ars et Métiers.

The memorable restaurant Chez l’Ami Louis at at 32, rue du Vertbois, in the 3rd arrondissement.

Arne was the host and he outdid himself in a way I will never forget. We had ordered a lamb roast that was supposed to be one of their favorites culinary masterpieces. Arne ordered a Bourgogne vieux to go with the lamb. When he was offered to taste it, he shook his head and said No, this was not the wine he wanted to go with this excellent lamb roast. He asked what would be the really good Bourgogne vieux and the sommelier recommended a presumably very expensive wine. Arne had never been very spendthrift, but he wanted this evening to be memorable and the wine to be perfect. We were ready to eat and I tasted this very special old Burgundy wine. I closed my eyes and sighed from sheer delight. I had never tasted a wine like this. I said so to my very dear stepfather and he agreed. It was perfect. The lamb was perfect and everything was like heaven. As we finished our superb meal, Louis himself came into the dining room to greet his customers and of course he stopped by and chatted at some length when he found some regular customers. This is a wonderful feature of the best old restaurants in France. Once the main work is done with in the kitchen domain, the owner and chef himself comes out and walks around the dining room chatting with everybody and making sure that everything has been perfect.

Our very good friend Jean-Max, a genuine Parisian of the old school (and who is also the president of the association DEVA Europe), told us the other day that l’Ami Louis is one of those old Paris gourmet restaurants in the quartiers Ars et Métiers and le Marais that are the most genuine to be found in terms of old gastronomic palaces. In fact, far from being a ‘palace’, like la Coupole in Montparnasse 2 , l’Ami Louis is a rather small, intimate and very Parisian old restaurant. It started with Louis himself coming to Paris from the provinces, like the chefs of many other top-standard Paris restaurants in those old quartiers that form a periphery around les Halles. Those were once called ‘the belly of Paris’– le ventre de Paris (après Zola) 3

This unforgettable evening Chez l‘Ami Louis took place in the early eighties, after many other pleasant dinners with Arne, in restaurants or at home.

However, on the negative side, I remember a dinner at ‘Chez Allard’ – in the 6e arrondissement, in  the quartier St Germain des Prés – when we had especially ordered suckling wild boar for Arne and myself and were expecting a culinary feast. We were served pork chops. I am surprised that I didn’t tell them to take it back, but somehow I didn’t. However, we never went back to Allard after that extreme disappointment.

In fact it was the second time I was really upset at Allard – the first time for extremely bad service when we were with our American friends, Wes and Patsy, who now live in Nijmegen, Holland. They wanted to place the four of us at a small corner table for two, but there was no way I was going to let them get away with that, since we had clearly reserved a table for four people. We got a bigger table, but the bad service continued throughout the evening. However, we thought we might try the usually very much appreciated restaurant once again on the evening of the suckling wild boar. That was the last straw. I do believe that when you reserve a table under the name of O’Neall , they think they can get away with just anything, because you are probably American.

Wonderful ‘Chez Benoît’

At another top restaurant, Chez Benoît, close to la Place du Châtelet in the 4th arrondissement and behind Le Théâtre Sara-Bernhardt (now Théâtre de la Ville) we have noticed something of the same thing. However, as far as the food goes there is nothing but the highest praise for this very chic restuarant. Chez Benoît is another jewel in the area bordering on les Halles, southeast of the former Halles and close to the Seine. John found out about this exceptional restaurant after the Computing Center 4  was invited to a luxury dinner at this gourmet restaurant by the Control Data Corporation (who supplied the Center with their hardware). The few times we were there, we always ordered in advance lamb roast stuffed generously with veal kidneys.

Parismarais.com says “There is no place a more Parisian bistro than Benoît. The only bistro in Paris to have a Michelin star, this restaurant located in the heart of Paris near Les Halles and the Marais is a true champion of the tradition.” As far as the Michelin stars are concerned, Parismarais.com, however, is wrong, since there is a site on the Internet that says “The 15 Best Places with Michelin Stars in Paris”. Also John and I went to a couple of those fashionable restaurants, but we got tired of it and found it a waste of money. Which was not the case with Chez Benoît though. I must add here, though, that they might well refer to a specific small cosy type of restaurant with the word “bistro”.

One evening, however, we had the misfortune of being placed in the inner room Chez Benoît, and we realized right away that it was a disaster. The room was teeming with noisy Americans who spoke to each other loudly across the room. People who had never seen each other until this evening talked about places they had been to, dominating the entire room and without the slightest consideration for the people who were not involved in their shouting match. The next time we reserved for rôti d’agneau aux rognons de veau, we made very sure that we said ‘in the outer room’ Oh well, some Americans do deserve the reputation they have of being loudmouthed and vulgar tourists. 

___________________

We have so many good memories of Arne’s visits to Paris and one of them was Arne’s and my long walks through Paris. I worked very short hours at l’Ecole Centrale de Paris and two days a week I didn’t have any classes at all, so I could often accompany Arne on his long walks. I could barely keep up with this elderly man (d’un certain âge) who had the most unbelievable stamina as far as walking goes. We must have walked kilometers in Paris. Once Arne was looking for a somewhat special restaurant where he wanted to invite me to a really good lunch. We didn’t find one and when at last we ended up at Avenue de l’Opéra, we had to make do with a merely touristy place set back west of the avenue.

The library in this 300 year old museum.

Another time Arne had the idea of going to the back of l’Opéra de Paris, le Palais Garnier, to visit the old library and museum — La Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra National de Paris.

It was fascinating and we certainly spent over an hour looking at old costumes, instruments, sheet music, books, more books and handwritten manuscripts, sculptures and everything imaginable in a museum of this kind.

“The modern museum has five rooms which display three centuries of the Paris Opera’s history through  paintings, costumes, drawings

Kalioujny by Jacques Gestalder (Wikipedia)

of scenery and  models of set designs. Altogether, the museum conserves 8,500 objects.”(Wikipedia)

“Around 1863 Charles Nuitter had begun cataloging the Opera’s archives, and on 15 May 1866, he became the official archivist. He also published several books on the history of the company. Théodore Lajarte was appointed librarian in 1873 and embarked on the systematic organization of the Opera’s scores and instrumental partIn 1876 he first published his two-volume inventory of the library’s holdings covering the period from 1671 to 1876″ (Wikipedia)

Kalioujny was a Czech dancer of Russian origin who spent most of his artistic life in France 5

_________________

In May 1981 there was an emergency call from my sister Gun about Arne who was in a hospital in Helsinki and had had a serious heart attack. I took the first possible flight to Helsinki and found Arne already out of intensive care. The whole thing is quite an amazing story that finished well for us and for Arne who lived five more years after this scary event.

In Sweden they now write dates starting with the year, then month and day. So Gun wrote 07.07.21. In Finland they interpreted this as if he was born in 1921 and they did almost the impossible to save his life. In fact they brought him back to life after his heart had stopped working. They would most likely not have worked as hard on him if they had known that he was born in 1907. They actually resuscitated him. I spent three wonderful days in Helsinki after Gun and Per had gone back to Lund. Masses of rhododendrons were blooming in front of the hospital in this late month of May. I went to see Arne at least once a day. I held his hand and we talked. I felt the life that had returned to this dear body.

I walked around the city, walked down to the beautiful harbor with all the colorful buildings. I went to Sibelius Park and past the extraordinarily beautiful Sibelius monument.6  I went on down to the bay that Helsinki is located on, a bay off the Gulf of Finland, which goes all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia.

It was a cool and windy day and I was standing looking out over the water with white caps on the dark blue-grey waves and a few beautiful heeling sailboats. My whole being was immersed into the scene. It was a true epiphany moment. I have rarely been so one with nature. I didn’t exist as a separate human being but just as a part of the dramatic scenery that surrounded me. From the impressive Sibelius monument in the park to the cool wind and the sailboats on the white-crested water. I was totally overwhelmed by the force and beauty of it all.

On the last day, before getting on the plane back to Arlanda and Stockholm, I decided to make a quick visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art . It got to be a little less quick than I had expected. There were paintings by Finnish paintings that I had never heard of and that I liked a lot. After the museum I took a cab to the airport (I think) and arrived just as they were calling my name. They were ready to close the gate. What strikes me so much later and now living in this very different world that developed after after 9/11, was how in those days there was of course no security check, no fuss. You needed your passport and your boarding pass, which I got in no time, and then you boarded your plane. Now we have to be imbued by fear and feeling that we are constantly being watched by Big Brother and that terrorists are everywhere. I actually don’t feel that way, but the western Establishment wants us to feel insecure and constantly filled with fear. So they need to protect us with their military.

We had quite a few more visits from Arne after he had nearly died in Helsinki. He now said that he was not afraid of death because he knew what it was like. He had been there.

We went to the opera a few times with Arne and I remember one time when we were getting ready to leave for the opera and Arne who always bought the same Italian shoes because they fit his long and narrow feet was desperately looking for the newest pair which he was sure he had packed. Eventually he found out that he had actually been wearing all the time one new shoe and an older one. Arne would always be properly dressed for theaters and especially for the opera, but gone are the days when he loved to dress up in tails and even a top hat for the premieres in Malmö. He once said that the mayor of Malmö and he were the only ones wearing top hats at one premiere.

I have leafed through all the programs I have from l’Opéra de Paris  and even though some are missing, it is quite a bunch. However, I can not remember for sure which operas we saw with Arne.

_______________

In 1986 Arne became seriously ill after having suffered from angina pectoris for a few years. It was clear this time that he was not going to recover. He was 79 years old. I traveled to Sweden in all haste in the early summer of ’86 and I saw a dying man in the hospital. I hugged him and I was crying. He could speak only with great difficulty, but he said some warming words to me, which made me understand that he knew who I was. I am getting all teary-eyes as I am writing this. There was no telling how long he was going to last, but not very long after this, my sister Gun told me that the end had come.     

The funeral was, as Arne had said he wanted it to be, a happy event, not a mourning event. He was directing the play of life and death to the very last and beyond it.

His much younger brother Birger was there of course and made a very moving speech. Arne’s best old friend Curt, a retired general now, was there. He had once been Arne’s and my dinner guest a few times in Malmö in the fall of ’53, when he was the head of Ystad Regiment on the south coast of Skåne.

His presence at the funeral quite moved me since I knew that he was taking care of his younger son who had severe psychological problems. Curt came up to me just to shake hands and I’ll never forget the way h just stopped and looked at me. I said I am Siv, Arne’s daughter. You came to see us quite a few times when you were in Ystad. He said “I know”, but he looked at me as if he were saying “Where have you been all my life?” He had been divorced for many years at that time and his entire life had turned into a theme in minor. I’d had a crush on Curt ever since those days in Malmö and I was extremely moved.

My cousin Agneta (Lydén) was there and she cried so hard I had to try to console her. I put my arm round her shoulders, and she cried her heart out. I tried to calm her down with soothing words, which she has never forgotten. Apart from those couple of incidents, the entire event was not marked by any ‘tristesse‘. It was the way Arne had told my sister Gun he would want it to be. There was much happy talking and a few very nice speeches.

One day here in Genas I said to John “You know, John, I miss Arne.”John said: “So do I.” I was moved.

__________________

During those thirteen years in Paris we of course went to see many operas, concerts and theater productions.

One of the performances that stand out the clearest in my memory is Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” and the fabulous voice of Galina Vishnevskaya. The music is based on the poem by Wifred Owen. Britten is said to have been entranced by the voice of Galina Vishnevskaya. Who would not be? But he was clearly first entranced by Wilfred Owen’s war poems. Wilfred Owen, the war poet who died in the cruel first world war just a few days before the armistice was signed Has there ever been a war that was not cruel? Of course not. But this particular war where half of a generation of English, French and German young men gave their lives, for what? For the pride and greed and lust for power of rulers of nations and the “glory” of the “fatherland”.

This reminds me also of a stark autobiographical novel by Vera Brittain: “Testament of Youth“, which makes you feel heavily the cruel meaninglessness of war.

The performance at the Salle Pleyel in the early 1980s was profoundly moving. The horrors of war come through starkly in Vishnewskaya’s incredibly dramatic voice. Her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich, the outstanding cellist whom we had heard previously somewhere, was now the conductor. It was altogether a fascinating and incredibly gripping performance.

I have somehow mislaid my program for this wonderful concert, and the two things I am sure of is the names of those two stars performing together, the way they often did on international tours.

The premiere of the “War Requiem” was in 1962 at the Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, West Midlands. It is a choral work with three soloists, whom Britten selected with a sure mind. It was supposed to be Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano, Peter Pears, tenor and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, baritone. Ar the concert we attended at la Salle Pleyel, the tenor and the baritone were sung by other men, and I don’t remember who they were. But the concert was heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Vishnewskaya was prevented by the Soviet authorities to go to Coventry for the world premiere of “War Requiem” in May 1962. However she took up the role that Britten had created for her at the Royal Albert Hall the following January. She also sang the part in the first recording ever made of the “War Requiem” that same year, with the trio Britten had in mind from the beginning.

Britten’s music is based on nine of Wilfred Owen’s anti-war poems. The most striking words that are remembered by many of his readers are certainly how proud Abram slew his first-born son Isaac, in spite of the angel having told him to sacrifice a ram instead of his son..

The angel says to Abraham:

“Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so,
but slew his son, –
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”7

“Benjamin Britten wrote the soprano role in his War Requiem (completed 1962) specially for Vishnevskaya, though the USSR prevented her from traveling to Coventry Cathedral for the premiere performance. The USSR eventually allowed her to leave the country in order to make the first recording of the Requiem.” (Wikipedia)

In those years, until 1986, I taught advanced English literature and civilization classes at ‘l’Ecole Centrale de Paris‘, and, since I was myself deeply moved by Owen’s war poems, I had my class read some of them. I still remember the lines

“Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,”

I knew Britten’s music and after having one class of mine read Wilfred Owen’s poems I decided I wanted to let my students listen to the Benjamin Britten’s music. I brought in the LP — again at some time around 1980.  After a brief introduction of Britten, I warned them that Vishnevskaya had a very special Russian kind of soprano voice, superbly dramatic, and that they should not compare her to a western soprano.

I sensed how immersed they were in the music. Some of them put their heads down on their desks and you could have heard a pin fall in this complete silence. It was like a sudden  transformation of my classroom into a cathedral.

__________________

IN 1975 we saw, once again, the absolutely spellbinding ballet, Petrushka, by Igor Stravinsky. Cooperating was Alexandre Benois, a Russian artist whose sets and costumes for several ballets have gone down to history. His artistic work contributed greatly to the enormous success of the first performance in 1911.

This piece of music may just be my favorite music of all the wonderful music I love, and that is saying a lot.

The choreography was, as it had been in New York City in 1972, still said to be by Michel (Michail)  Fokine, the version he did for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1911 in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet.  The scene is set in 1830 as the Shrovetide Fair (carnival, analogous to Mardi Gras) celebrations taking place in Saint Petersburg. The opening scene shows crowds of people at the fair in Russian period costumes, milling around and playing out various little scenes in the crowd.

Scene from the 1975 performance at the Prais Opera — Nureyev and Pontois in the foreground

On a given signal, the crowd moves off the center stage. The magician looks out trough the curtains of his puppet theater, he steps out, the curtains move aside, and with his wand he makes the puppets (pantins, since this ballet was first performed in France) come alive and start dancing, all the time acting like the puppets they are supposed to be.  Petrushka is madly in love with the ballerina, but she rejects him. She prefers the supposedly dumb Moor.

The unique Russian ballet dancer, Rudolf Noureyev

The one important difference from the ballet we saw in 1972 by the Joffrey Ballet at the City Center was Rudolf Nureyev performing as Petrushka, dancing and acting. The way he and also the other two main characters, Noella Pontois and Charles Jude, act out a mime show while performing outstanding ballet is amazing. Petrushka is miming his love for the ballerina in almost heartrending gestures. After the ballerina appears in his room and soon disappears again, his grief is almost palpable. Nureyev’s mime  performance is definitely in the class of Marcel Marceau and here the same trick is used as by Marcel Marceau, 8 feeling around the walls which are not there, in a way that makes the audience feel that there are indeed walls around the room.

The mise en scène of the tableaux of festive people at the carnival, which we get back to after the scenes in the rooms of Petrushka (Tableau 2) and the Moor (Tableau 3), at the carnival is equally superb, complete with bear and all.

Yves-André Hubert filmed them for Antenne 2 TV channel, which broadcast the ballet on December 27th 1976.”  (Nureyev dancing in Petrushka) 9

_____________________

Another absolutely unforgettable show during our years in Paris was George Gerswin’s “Porgy and Bess”,with libretto written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin, one of my favorite operas ever, butit can not ever be compared with Mozart, Verdi, Puccini or Richard Strauss. It is a totally different kind of opera and there are even spoken parts in the libretto.

“Porgy” was created in 1935.10 It featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. After suffering from an initially unpopular public reception due in part to its racially charged theme, a 1976 Houston Grand Opera production gained it new popularity, and it is now one of the best-known and most frequently performed operas. (Wikipedia)

Porgy And Bess (Original soundtrack) Jacket of DVD for production premiered in 1976 (Houston Opera)

The Houston Grand Opera toured Europe with its Tfabulous production of “Porgy” in the late 70s. It began with a six‐week engagement at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, sponsored by the Paris Opera. Metteur en scène was Jack O’Brien.

We saw this outstanding production in early1978. Actually, we saw it twice, the first time with John’s parents and with his aunt and uncle, Ann and Larry, classic opera lovers. Later on, my sister Gun visited us and it seemed like a must to go back and see it once again with Gun. I could not see it too many times anyway. It was with a different pair of lead singers this time. The quality of the show was of course the same. Outstanding.11

The production was magnificent. You felt as if you were in the U.S. South, Alabama, Georgia, or some such genuinely southern state. In fact, the opera takes place on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Caroline. The singing and acting were the very best. In an opera like this one, the acting is more important than in any 19th century opera I can think of. 

The show opened with a Honky Tonk piano that set the mood right away. Then the very first song is Clara singing a lullaby, “Summertime” to her baby that she is holding in her arms.

Summertime / And the livin’ is easy / Fish are jumpin’ / And the cotton is high / Your pa is rich / And your ma is good-lookin’ / So hush little baby / Do-on’t you cry-y . (George and Ira Gerswin — Summertime — Harolyn Blackwell)  — Wonderful. Clara’s husband, Jake, sings his child a lullaby of his own — “A woman is a sometime thing”.

The story is a combination of a love story and a stark drug drama. Sportin’ Life is a drug-dealer and he is trying hard to get Bess away from Crown, her ‘man. Porgy is a crippled man and at the beginning he sings about himself os being doomed to a lonely life. But he senses that Bess has feelings for him and the story develops. You were almost moved to tears when Porgy and Bess were singing Bess you is my woman  now. (From Trevor Nunn’s 1993 theatrical revival of the Gerswins’ Porgy and Bess)? Bess is responding very warmly. She never had any love for either Crown who abused her or for Sportin’ Life.The end is is unclear, as it should be in the opera, but it leaves you with hope for Porgy and for Bess.

Bess does not want to have anything to do with Sportin’ Life and his drugs any more. However, Sportin’Life is a clever drug-dealer and he knows how to win over unwilling persons. He sneaks up to Bess’ door and puts a little package of dope in front of the door.

The next thing you know is Bess leaving with Sportin’ Life for New York City. But Porgy is not going to put up with being the loser. He gets in his goat-cart and prepares to follow her as the curtain falls. The final  note is one of hope for Porgy and hop e for Bess who loves him.

I don’t know who played Sportin’ Life, but his singing and acting of “It ain’t necessarily so” was perfect. (It Ain’t Necessarily So  Here it is with another cast (Reggie Whitehead in his great performance from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, recorded in Warsaw Opera in 2008.) A wonderful Ira Gerswin rhyme.

Oh Jonah he lived in a whale / Oh Jonah he lived in a whale / He made his home in / That fish’s abdomen / Oh Jonah he lived in a whale

__________________

We saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater with the striking dancer and actress, Judith Jameson. This time we were with John’s sister Marjie, and it was in June 1975 at the enormous hall, le Palais des Sports, also called le Dôme de Paris, close to la Porte de Versailles.  They were doing a ballet to the music of Carmina burana, Carl Orff’s wonderful musical composition based on sundry texts from the centuries before what we call the MIddle Ages.

We had seen Alvin Ailey in New York City with our niece Kajsa in the early summer of 1973, but it was wonderful to see these magnificent dancers perform this monumental piece of music. 12

___________________

Now over to some of the great number of more classic operas we saw in Paris.  Apart from all the Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, one that I remember well is “Tales of Hoffman” (Conbte d’Hoffman) by Jacques Offenbach — in 1974.. Arne was with us that time and it might well have been the time he had traveled to Paris with one old shoe and one new one. We dressed up to go to the opera in those days; for me usually a long skirt and a nice blouse.

I remember Hoffman, sung by Nicolai Gedda, the Swedish tenor, standing on a table in the first act singing “Kleinzach”. Fires were burning at the front edge of the table and  I was just hoping Hoffman’s long black robe would not catch fire. But of course, as John said they were not real fires. Hmm.  I have always liked The “Tales of Hoffman”, ever since my youth, and I think there was even a movie made of this opera many decades ago.

We did in fact also see “Tales of Hoffman” in New York City at the New York City Opera with wonderful Beverly Sills singing all three female roles, the way I think it should be done, since they are all three figments of Hoiffman’s dreams.

We did, in fact also see a Richard Strauss opera “Salomé” and, even tough I find his operas a bit difficult to take (unless it is “Der Rosenkavalier”). I liked “Salomé”, a very dramatic and gripping story and opera, even though pretty horrible as is the case in lots of classic operas. Anja Silja, the great German soprano, was a wonderful Salomé.

We heard Placido Domingo, who is usually considered to be one of the foremost tenors of our time, We like him possibly better even than Luciano Pavarotti. We heard him in Puccini’s “Tosca” singing Mario Cavaradorossi in this murderous tragedy and in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”  singing Manrico, this most confusing and frightful story about revenge and death. 

The Paris Opera at the end of l’Avenue de l’Opéra (photo from 1970)

I have already in Chapter 24 talked about the production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” at l’Opéra de Paris in 1974, and I will just add a few things here. Teresa Berganza, the Spanish mezzo-soprano, for me, is magic. I am so much in love with her voice that I just soar when I hear her sing a special aria from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”, “Una volta c’era un re”. (Cinderella — Once there was a king) The rest of that opera is not one of my favorites. Here she is as Cherubino singing one of the most famous arias from “Figaro”. Cherubino is in love with the countess (he/she thinks) –. “Voi Che Sapete, from Mozart Marriage of Figaro, by Teresa Berganzain concert in 2008, Orchestre national de la RTF, Eugen Jochum (conductor).(Voi che sapete che cosa e l’amor – Vous qui savez ce qu’est l’amour). It was an absolute dream hearing her and I went wild with ecstasy, as I believe did half of the audience. I was standing up applauding until the palms of my hands were actually getting sore. The entire audience was standing up, and the applause seemed to never want to stop. It is not for nothing called “a standing ovation

In June 1981 we saw “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini with Montserrat Caballé at the Paris Opera. First I must tell you about a little anecdote concerning Montserrat Caballé.  My sister Gun was on a transatlantic flight sitting next to a couple who were real opera lovers. They brought up the subject of Montserrat Caballé, saying that she weighed 200 pounds, but that was 200 pounds of pure gold.

So here I got my chance to hear Montserrat Caballé. She pretty much held up to my expectations. It is just that I am not really a high soprano lover and sometimes she got to be a bit too much for me. I love Puccini, but I found this opera a bit too grandiose, too Wagnerian almost. Puccini’s soprano arias often get to be very demanding, and — Was I wrong? or did Caballé sometimes not quite come up to par? This is, we must know, one of Birgit Nilsson’s most famous roles 13 So no wonder that I sensed Caballé being slightly nervous on her first appearance. She soon found her footing though and I thought she got through the opera with bravura. John and I do agree, however, that Joan Sutherland in our own recording beats Caballé on the high notes.

I am reminded of a comment by Arne when I say “too grandiose”. I said once to Arne, who, like John, is a Wagner lover. “Don’t you think Wagner is sometimes a bit pompous? ” Arne thought it over and came back with “No, I would rather say that perhaps he is not pompous enough.” Typical Arne come-back.

However that may be, the cruel Chinese princess Turandot finally gets her prince Calaf, sung by Giuseppe Giacomini. This tenor was also a first for me. He was very good, even though I was sometimes feeling that there was too much vibrato in his voice.

I do want to add that the second soprano, Leona Mitchell, as Liù was wonderful. Liù is a young servant woman who is madly in love with prince Calaf, and who kills herself towards the end of the opera.

In 1974 we saw Puccini’s “La Bohème” my favorite opera ever, if it is possible to claim such a thing. “La Bohème” is in fact the only opera I like to listen to at home. Other operas I prefer to listen to in opera houses. Mimi was sung by Jeannette Pilou and Rodolfo by Carlo Cossutta. I knew neither of those singers before, but as I remember, they came out with flying colors. We saw it again in Lyon, many years later, and I always love it so much I almost get tears in my eyes at the end. In fact, I adore this opera. We saw it at the Auditorium in Lyon when the opera house was being rebuilt. I remember quite well the scene at the Porte d’Enfer in Act 3. In fact, I remember several scenes from the performance in Lyon — or at least I believe that is the one — the final scene when Mimi is dying, but still goes on singing, the same as in Verdi’s two best-known operas, “La Traviata” and “Rigoletto”, which I have seen elsewhere, not with John. I also vividly remember the scene on Christmas Eve at the plaza, a wonderfully lively scene with people milling around, and where Mimi’s friend, Musetta, gives out a musical scream when she realizes she has lost the heel of her shoe. There is more to that little incident, but I don’t remember what. I can just still hear her musical scream.

Back to l’Opéra de Paris and “Madame Butterfly,” another opera by Puccini that we saw during those years. It has been said to have the most beautiful arias (and a duet) in Puccini’s entire work. We are almost sure it was Mirella Freni who sang Madame Butterfly . Here is Mirella Freni. “Un bel di vedremo” (We shall see a beautiful day), Madama Butterfly. from Act 2 of the opera. Freni is one of our favorite sopranos and we have seen her in quite a few productions. I remember some scenes vividly from this production, but I don’t have the program and the cast can not be found on the Internet.

We also saw Mirella Freni in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”, in 1978. one of Verdi’s finest operas. She sang the role of Amélia Grimaldi in this extremely complex opera set in the 14th century when Genoa and Venice were republics governed by a doge.

I have lost the program for this opera as well, but amazingly I find it online and John also remembers most of the important singers and the conductor, Claudio Abbado. On the site it says that Mirella Freni was magic. She was great. We have always loved her. Piero Cappuccilli was Simon Boccanegra, baritone, and the great Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass, was Jacopo Fiesco. This opera was a co-production with l’Opéra de Paris and la Scala di Milano. I just now found that Nicolai Ghiaurov was married to Mirella Freni in a second marriage. Remarkable singers, both — “la magie de la représentation autour d’une Mirella Freni magique.” Mirella Freni; “Come in quest’ora bruna”; Simon Boccanegra; Giuseppe Verdi

We are clearly very strange people. We love opera, but we can not stand the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon. To me it looks like a crossing between a bordello and a battleship with its black floor, even see-through, and red color wherever it is not black. We made a one-time visit to the “new” opera, after the restoration. It was a pretty boring production of “The Marriage of Figaro”. But all the time we just felt uncomfortable because of the decor around us. So, apart from quite a few operas that we saw at the Auditorium during the renovation, we don’t go to see operas any more. We have also become homebodies with age.

__________________

The fabulous baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Diskqu (Wikipedia)

There were also our most favorite musical soloists who performed quite often in Paris. There was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the extraordinarily wonderful baritone whom I associate mostly with Schubert Lieder, but we also heard him sing Lieder by Schuman and also, once, Lieder by Richard Strauss. It was just a dream hearing Fischer-Dieskau sing. He would put his hand on the grand piano and it was the beginning of the dream. Just straight forward and simple, no manières, no show-off, but his singing was out of this world.  He sings, no sang (alas, he died in 2012), opera too, and very much so, but it is always as a singer of Lieder with his right hand on the grand piano that I will remember this wonderful man.

In this picture he looks younger than I remember him, but I never remember him as looking old.  13

 

There was also the fabulous pianist Alfred Brendel whom I also associate with Schubert sonatas but of course he played many other composers as well, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and others. An unforgettable and funny thing with Brendel in concert was his way of looking out over the audience as if to say “When everybody has stopped coughing, I will start. Even in schubert’s sonata no.21, after the wake-up bang of the first note in the 4th movement, he mhe makes a clear break, looks out over the audience in an almost school-masterly way and then when everything is completely silent, he resumes his playing.

To me Schubert’s sonatas Nos 20 and 21 to me are Alfred Brendel. Sometimes when you look at his face as he is playing, you are not sure if he is feeling like laughing or crying — he is so carried away by the music he is producing.  This virtuoso makes Schubert’s sonatas his own, and I  doubt iff Schubert would have minded.  They can just never be played or ever have been played more convincingly and moving than by this virtuoso.

After all this enthusiasm, I must admit, however, that I have heard Horowitz play the 21st as well, and it was just wonderful. I remember Horowitz from Public radio WQXR ( New York’s Classical Music Radio Station). Horowitz is a sorcerer.. I heard him once play Chopin one afternoon and I said”I like this. This is not Chopin. It’s Horowitz-Chopin. I am not usually a fan of Chopin’s music. I must also admit that I am certainly biased since I have heard Brendel quite a few times, and I love him as a person too. But these are my memoirs and if I am biased, so be it.

We missed a concert by Brendel in Lyon a few years ago. We used to have a subscription to concerts at the Auditorium in Lyon, until one year we did not think the programs they offered us were worth the trouble of traveling into Lyon, and we have now given up on a subscription. However, missing a concert by Alfred Brendel was a thing we will have a hard time to get over.? We felt like crying when we realized that evening that right now Brendel is playing at the Auditorium and we are not there. 

Alfred Brendel is married to a wealthy and horse-loving English woman, but they have now made their home in northern London.  We once watched a documentary about him and his wonderful life with his English wife on their estate. But they obviously have their home in London.

These two giants in the musical world tower over all our memories of wonderful music in Paris. 

__________________

In March 1971, not long after John and I met at le Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, (La MaMa pruduction of Camilla), our next visit to a theater got to be an extremely lucky choice. We saw Le Misanthrope” at le théâtre de l’Odéon  in a wonderful staging by Antoine Bourseiller. an outstanding theater director or, as I prefer to say, metteur en scène. The moving exciting mise en scène made the play come alive, the way I have never seen it before. People moving in the background, talking softly, gesturing, laughing, while all the time the main characters play their parts in the foreground.

Bourseiller had toured Canada and the United States in January and February, before coming back to France and le théâtre de l Odéon. It was probably the best Molière performance I have ever seen. And certainly a fabulous mise en scène of Le Misanthrope.

 I had seen Molière’s “L’Avare” at La Comédie Française, probably in the fall of 1970, before I knew John. He saw it too, and did not like it. He said it was too dark and too gloomy. Well, I agree, it was dark and serious, but there is just the difference that I liked it and John did not. Sure it didn’t make me laugh, but the word comédie is used so much in French for any play that is not a tragédie, and I don’t see why you can’t make “l’Avare”, Harpagon himself, as sinister as he really was. Of course there is a happy ending, so that makes it a comedy after all. I liked the realism. John didn’t.

____________________

When talking about theater in Paris, Ariane Mnouchkine may well be the theater producer first coming to mind. She opened her theater’Le Théâtre du Soleil at la Caroucherie in le Bois de Vincennes in 1964.  Mnouchkine was already a legend for avant-garde theater when we arrived in Paris in 1973. She has received the Molière Award for Best Show in a Public Theatre, among other awards for best director, and, above all maybe, the international award, best Ibsen interpreter, and there are even more. 14 “The Ibsen citation declared: “to enter a Mnouchkine production is to enter another world.” In the ringing phrase of the critic Judith G Miller, she is nothing less than a “nomad of the imagination””.

Ariane Mnouchkine  founded the Parisian avant-garde stage ensemble Théâtre du Soleilin in 1964, located at la Cartoucherie in le Bois de vincennes. She was 25 years old. She had studied for one year at Oxford and after that at the Sorbonne.

She was very active in what has been called “les événements de mai 1968″. For many years afterwards it was in fact referred to just by the word “les événements”. It began as a student uprising at the Cité Universitaire, but it soon spread and the students were joined by factory workers and people of all strata who “protested against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism”… It saw “massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France” (Wikipedia)

Ariane Mnouchkine is a descendant of a Russian Jewish family and her grandparents were taken to a concentration camp in Germany and were gassed. Her father managed to hide from the Gestapo and after the war he became one of the most proficient film producers in France. Ariane was very close to her father. But it is easy to understand how she got so very fascinated with Klaus Mann’s novel, “Méphisto”.

Ariane Mnouchkine and Jean-Jacques Lemêtre, musician and composer — photo from booklet sold at the performance

We saw one play at the Cartoucherie some time in the seventies, but we can not possibly be sure of what it was. Amazing. It could well have been “Molière” in 1976, but we are far from sure. Well, I just knew for certain that we had already been to this theater — which is not like any other one I have ever known — when we came back for the much lauded “Méphisto et le diable nazi”, in 1979. The play, scripted by Ariane Mnouchkine, is based on Klaus Mann’s novel “Mephisto — Novel of a Career” (“Mephisto — Roman einer Karriere“) the “career”referring to the outstanding actor Gustaf Gründgens — in the novel and in Mnouchkine’s play, thinly disguised as Hendrik Höfgen.

How is it possible to even begin to describe the fantastic ‘spectacle‘ that Ariane Mnouchkine staged with her team and which took them several months to prepare. She  stresses that the mise en scène is always done collectively and that it is the only way she knows how to work.

Klaus Mann’s novel was published in 1936, during the last years of the Weimar Republic. This book became the legacy of the numerous actors and theater directors who became the victims of Hitler’s immense ego and paranoia.

Many intellectuals and theater people left Germany when Hitler became the German chancellor in 1933. Thomas Mann, Klaus Mann’s father, moved to Switzerland with his family. Klaus Mann left for France and then moved to the Netherlands, where he stayed until he decided to move to the United States in 1936. So did his father, who had in fact never accepted his son. Klaus Mann was, however, very close to his sister Erika, who was for a few years married to the famous actor Gustaf Gründgens, the model for the main character in “Mephisto”.

The Mann family was secular Jews and Gründgens found it convenient to end his association with the Mann family, an association which had, to begin with, greatly enhanced his reputation. He had become obsessed with his own career and he gave in to Germany’s new leaders to further his personal ambitions.  Gründgens / Höfgen was an opportunist — that much is clear. Whether he was indeed the ‘Devil’ can possibly remain in doubt.                     

Thus Gustaf Gründgens made his career within the Nazi party and became artistic director of theaters in Berlin (Berliner Staatstheater), Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. It has been very much discussed to what extent he was actually a collaborator. Was he maybe just not openly speaking out against the leaders of the “Third Reich”? In Mnouchkine’s interpretation he is the Devil himself. Judging from his enormous success, he must certainly have been ingratiating himself with the Nazi party leaders. He was, for one thing,  known to have had a château-like villa. His honors in the world of theater were also there for all to see.

There is absolutely no doubt about who the Devil is. (from the program)

The main character in “Mephisto“, Hendrik Höfgen, driven by an obsessive need for power and fame, chooses the road to hell like the ancient myth of Mephistopheles/Dr Faustus. Hendrik Höfgen is the thinly veiled satirical portrait of the famous actor Gustaf Gründgens. His marriage to Klaus Mann’s sister Erika obviously broke up for political reasons. It was not convenient for opportunist Gründgens to be married to a member of the Jewish Mann family.

Erika and Klauss Mann worked and traveled together for years before “the Devil” appeared on the stage in 1933. Erika moved to Berlin where she founded and acted, with Klaus, in the cabaret Die Pfeffer-Mühle (The Pepper Mill), and they both  became outspoken critics of National Socialism. When Hitler came to power, Erika moved to Switzerland. Klaus Mann left for France and later moved to the Nertherlands. Mephisto was published in 1936 in Amsterdam. It was published in East Berlin in 1956.

In Ariane Mnouchkine’s play the action takes place on two opposing stages. We saw Mnouchkine herself helping turn all the chairs around in the intermission. On one stage we saw the opponents to Nazism, Hitler and the Third Reich. These are the resistance people, grouped around the Mann family. The alter ego of Klaus Man himself, Sebastian Brückner, is the center of the action on this stage. We saw the old man Brückner and it was clear that this was Thomas Mann himself.

Hendrik Höfgen, the main character in Mnoushkin’s play — the Devil. (unblog.fr)

As always, Mnouchkine’s mise en scène is flamboyant, much motion, and, why not? — expressionism. Since I am using that term, I will just add a kind of footnote to say that I am not a great fan of German expressionist painters. I am, however, truly a fan of Mnouchkine’s fantastic, wild, colorful and constantly moving stagings and stage-sets.

On the second stage we saw, in the form of a cabaret, the decadence of the end of the Weimar republic and the rise of Nazism — there were the followers, the yea-sayers. This is where we see Hendrik Höfgen (from Klaus Mann’s novel), a portrait of Gustaf Gründgens, who is Mephisto selling his soul to the devil. Höfgen’s stark white face leaves no doubt about who the Devil is.

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra on Agamemnon’s return from Troy — photo from booklet sold at the performance

We went up to Paris from Lyon in 1991 to see the much lauded “Agamemnon”, the second in a four-play series of “Les Atrides” (Novembrer 1990- January 1993) The music is by Jean-Jacques Lemêtre, and Ariane Mnouchkine herself was one of the translators of the Greek plays.15.

“Agamemnon” is based on the Greek play by Aeschylus from the 5th century B.C. The Atreides are the descendants of Atreus, king of Mycenae in the Peloponnese –Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus being the sons of Atreus. Menelaus became the king of Mycenae on the death of Atreus, and the tragedy of “Agamemnon” and the curse of the Atreides  is played out in Aeschylus’ play, and recreated in the most dramatic and spectacular fashion in Mnouchkine’s flamboyant ‘spectacle‘.

Clytemnestra is killed on Orestes, her son’s, orders. The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra, the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse on the House of Atreus — photo from booklet sold at the performance.

We saw Agamemnon in 1991, and it was a most exceptional ‘spectacle’, dancers, spellbinding rhythmic music and movements and declamatory speech. Mnouchkine has learned from the theater in countries from Japan, Java, various countries in the Middle East, and the influence is visible in this four-play series, “Les Atrides”, more than ever. Flamboyant colors, music and rhythm are the thread that makes this an artistic unit. The declamatory speech and the wildly painted faces are of course designed to recreate the spirit of ancient Greek theater.

Dancers in “Agamemnon”, in which play Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon in revenge of his killing Iphigenia, their daughter — photo from booklet sold at the performance

____________________

Le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (Festival WorldStock 2017)

While on the subject of Paris theater, aside from Ariane Mnoshkine, there is also another major creator of avant-garde “spectacles” who must not be forgotten. Peter Brook had his Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in the 10th arrondissement, verging on the 18th, just west of the Gare du Nord. He had created this haven for superb performances from a totally run-down theater  building, that very few people, maybe just one woman, ever knew that it existed — behind a façade of an ordinary apartment building and seemingly left to decay.

We were there several times, but I doubt if there even were any programs. I remember one of Peter Brook’s actors that I didn’t like, but who was in every play Peter Brook staged. I found him as rigid as a fire poker, and he had a strange accent when speaking French, but there he was, every time. 

The one time I remember halfway, was when we went there with Arne and a childhood friend of his Claes Hoogland, who was a producer and theater critic at Sveriges radio (Swedish radio). Claes was quite a bit younger than Arne, but their parents were close friends, and so they got to know each other very early on in their lives. They were also both connected to the theater..

I remember well when we passed through Göteborg in 1949 on our way to Bohuslän and summer vacation, Arne had arranged with Claes that he would show us Göteborgs Stadsteater behind the stage. Claes had a position as secretary at Göteborg City Theater at the time.

We met him again at his parents’ New Year’s party the following year (evening gowns and all; mine was self-made — I was quite good at sewing back in those days) at their magnificent apartment on Östermalm in Stockholm. Tante Gerda was there of course, since she was the real link to Claes’ parents.

The next time I saw Claes Hoogland, however, would be in the late seventies in Paris. I guess that he and his wife had come to Paris just to see les Bouffes du Nord, which they probably knew already. I remember clearly that it was a play by Shakespeare, and one that I didn’t know before. We should of course have read the play before seeing it. It would most likely have been  “Mesure pour Mesure” — (“Measure for Measure”), 1978 — but we can not be absolutely sure. I will now read that play and see if rt seems familiar.

The Bouffes du Nord theater was built in 1876, but it was forgotten and had fallen into total disrepair So it had to be quite thoroughly restored before it re-opened in 1974 under the direction of Peter Brook and Micheline Rozan who had managed to get funds for the restoration, when the ministry refused to participate. 16

So we were at the theater with Arne, Claes and his wife. We were sitting on the hard benches in the front of the theater, and in fact I don’t know of any other seats there. I see now that there are somewhat more comfortable chairs in the back. Also it looks as if they have put chairs on the three balconies. I remember well that Claes and his wife were sitting behind the three of us, but I can’t even be sure of what play it was.

Peter Brook’s productions were always remarkable and still I do not remember any of the plays we saw at the Bouffes du Nord. Bizarre. However, the mise en scène and the acting were always mesmerizing, and the way we were always sitting right next to the actors greatly enhanced the feeling of being in the play. That’s what I particularly love about theater. Too bad that I can’t remember what plays we saw there. Les Bouffes du Nord, however, is a very exceptional avant-garde theater.

__________________

We went to le Théâtre de la ville at the Place du Châtelet several times. It was once called Théâtre de Sarah Bernhardt, who was supposed to have been one of the greatest actresses ever.17 She is even known to have played “Hamlet“. I remember well seeing Théâtre de Sarah Bernhard inscribed in big letters over the entrance to the theater. The name was changed in 1968, when it became Le Théâtre de la Ville.

There was “La Guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu” (“The Trojan War Will Not Take Place”) by Jean Giraudoux in 1975. Director (metteur en scène)  was Jean Mercure, actor and tehater director who was the founbder and the director of Le théâtre de la Ville from 1968 to 1985.

In this play Giraudoux uses the war in Troy, which ultimately does take place, as a symbol for his stark criticism of the diplomats and national leaders who could not or would not avoid World War I. So the tragic myth of the ten-year Trojan war is the framework, but the message is clear. We know what Giraudoux is really talking about. And very likely, in 1935, when the play was written, Giraudoux could already see what World War I was going to lead up to, since Hitler, after becoming the chancellor in 1933, did not make a great secret of his aggressive plans and actions.

In February 1981 we saw “Le canard sauvage”, (“The Wild Duck”) once again at LeThéâtre de la Ville, metteur en scène – Lucian Pintilie. This is the wonderfully gripping and tragic play by Henrik Ibsen. In Norwegian and in Swedish it is called “Vildanden“, which I find so much more beautiful as a title. It does not bring to mind a dish served in a restaurant.

Hedvig, the photographer Hjalmar Ekdal’s daughter, kills herself in the end because she believes her father doesn’t love her any more. She does not know that Hjalmar has found out that he is not his much beloved daughter Hedvig’s real father. His wife, Gina, has had an affair with the rich engros dealer, Gregers Werle.

I saw this deeply moving play in a magnificent production at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm in 1955, when I was invited by my childhood friend Britt, who comes back several times in these sketches.. (See Chapter 10 — – Stockholm theater). Even though I don’t like the sound of the title in French or in English, I don’t doubt that it was a very good performance of this heartrending play. However, the Stockholm production “directed by the fabulous Alf Sjöberg, who has gone down to Swedish theater history” (quoting myself from Chapter 10), and which I actually saw twice, the second time I and my husband Roland were invited by Arne and Mother.

The one play I remember the best from Le théâtre de la Ville is “Peer Gynt”, also by Henrik Ibsen — in October1981, mise en scène by the great theater and opera director, Patrice Chéreau. It was basically a fine performance but there was one quite important thing that irritated me and John very much. Chéreau had made Gérard Desarthe who played Peer do odd things with his head, as if he was feeble-minded or half mad. And that, I think I can say with certainty, was not Ibsen’s intention in his drawing-up of this character.

This poetic and philosophical play is extremely difficult to stage because of its mixture of the fantastic, the poetic and realism. Patrice Chéreau had chosen to include all of Peer’s travels and misforunes and the play was performed in two parts of three and a half hours on two different evenings.

Peer does not distinguish between right and wrong, because Böjgen (the “Boyg”) at the beginning of the play has persuaded him to avoid all problems in his life by “going udenom” that is outside, or more exactly around. He cares about nobody but himself. Evidently, there have been many parallels drawn between Ibsen’s “Boyg” and Goethe’s Mephistopheles — or Klauss Mann’s Mephisto for that matter. The great difference is that Peer is saved in the end by Solveig, the love of his youth.

In my class in Gymnasium we had to read parts of an abridged version of Peer Gynt in Norwegian and I was extremely impressed by the notion of Böjgen who blocks the path for Peer as a young boy and tells him to “go udenom”; that is to avoid all problems, follow the easy path of total selfishness. He travels around the world without ever finding his real self.  In the very end, after a greats number of adventures and misfortunes, when he is trying to become an emperor, after almost drowning in a shipwreck, he gets back to the hut in the woods where he started out on his wild and self-aggrandizing adventures. He hears Solveig singing and he realizes where his real empire is. He is now an old man and he is saved by the love of his youth.

Quoting myself from “Chapter 4 — My youth and the theater“, about the outstanding production of Peer Gynt by Ingmar Bergman in 1957 at Malmö Stadsteater, a 5-hour performance – “I will never forget Naima Wifstrand, when she is disillusioned with her son. She is sitting on a rock, peeling an onion, one layer after the other until there is nothing left. She is peeling the layers of identity of her son, Peer. There is no core, nothing at all. This is very likely one of the most famous symbols in theater history and it is also probably one of the best-known Scandinavian theater plays ever written.”

Continued –  Chapter 28 (Part 2) – The big visit to Scandinavia

  1. “But this ‘lesson’ is going to be completely baroque, in turns absurd, tragic, cynical, comical”
  2. Mentioned in Chapter 22
  3. Les Halles, in the 1st arrondissement, which used to be the gigantic wholesale food distribution center of Paris were closed down in the early 70s and in the place where they used to be there is now a green area on the ground level and a monstrous huge underground shopping center called Le Forum des Halles, which very soon became a hangout for noisy and destructive youths. The police may have taken care of that problem by now though.
  4. CCPN, Centre de Calcul de Physique Nucléaire
  5. Alexandre « Sacha » Kalioujny, né à Prague le et mort à Paris le , est un danseur étoile et pédagogue de la danse tchèque, ayant vécu surtout en France.
  6. Sibelius Park & Monument
  7. The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen:

    When lo! and angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him. Behold,
    A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
    Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
    But the old man would not so,
    but slew his son, –
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one”

  8. Chapter 21 (Part 1) – Mamaroneck High School and friends
  9. Nureyev & Pontois in Petrouchka 1976, the entire bqllet; Part 2: Rudolf Nureyev dances Petrushka with The Joffrey Ballet — Paris Dances Diaghilev Petrouchka — complete
  10. Porgy and Bess” was first performed in Boston on September 30, 1935, before it moved to Broadway in New York City.[1
  11.  “The role of Porgy in the Gershwin opera will be taken alternately by Donnie Ray Albert and Robert Mosley, that of Bess by Wilhelmenia Fernandez and Naomi Moody.”(Houston Opera’s ‘Porgy’ To Tour Europe)
  12. I talk about the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater at some length in Chapter 24 – An active year with John in New Rochelle.
  13.  Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau, who died May 18, was a unique performer. In a very long career he managed to sing and record almost anything that a classically trained baritone could possibly sing. While best known as the foremost interpreter of German art songs he appeared almost as often in the opera house as in the concert hall. The facts of his life and career are well known and can be reviewed here. He was likely the most prolific recording artist in the history of the medium – not even Placido Domingo comes close. Somehow, he never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera. Their loss.
  14. Ariane Mnouchkine “Ariane Mnouchkine is one of the giants of theatre — she is the only female director to have ever won the international Ibsen award (in 2009), and has received honours from many countries for her achievements.” — She is an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University, awarded 18 June 2008. She holds a Chair of Artistic Creation at the Collège de France.
  15. Les Atrides consisted of four parts: Iphigénie à Aulis, translated by Jean Bollack, opened on 16 November 1990; Agamemnon and Les Choéphores, translated by Ariane Mnouchkine, opened on 24 November 1990 and 23 February 1991 respectively; and Les Euménides, translated by Hélène Cixous, opened on 26 May 1991
  16. “Peter Brook et Micheline Rozan, fondateurs du Centre International de Créations Théâtrales, se souviennent de ce bâtiment délabré qu’est le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Grâce à l’appui financier du Festival d’Automne, que dirige Michel Guy, ils le font restaurer avec une intelligence et un goût remarquables. … Pourtant, nous remarquâmes sur le mur un bout de carton qui bouchait vaguement un trou. Nous le retirâmes, nous nous frayâmes un chemin à travers un tunnel poussiéreux, pour soudain nous redresser et découvrir, délabrées, carbonisées, ruinées par la pluie, grêlées, et pourtant nobles, humaines, lumineuses, à couper le souffle : les Bouffes du Nord.”– 1974, la réouverture du Théâtre par Peter Brook
  17. More about Sarah Bernhardt in Chapter 13 – Arne and Drottningholm Theater