Jul 13, 2008

Travel guide: Opéra Bastille, Paris

More postcard pictures here

Stairs to the balconies

There is one thing to know about this opera inaugurated less than 20 years ago (in 1989): everything is wrong in it, especially the acoustics.
This building is truly a disgrace to the musicians, the singers, the audience, the French people whose taxes payed for this mess, absolutely everyone.

Auditorium - view of the balconies and galleries from the orchestra

Sure, the auditorium and the galleries are beautiful, and who cares if the facade is falling apart (and is currently under renovation with protective nets preventing any more stone falls), if the building is slightly falling on one side because the foundations were not built properly (our very own Pisa Tower in Paris), and if the acoustics is dreadful.

So if ever you decide to attend a performance at Bastille and care a great deal about the sound, the choice of the seat is of the utmost importance: forget about any seat on any of the two balconies (where some seats sell for 150€ and the sound is by any means a lot worse than in the Family Circle of the Met) or any of the side seats (galeries). The orchestra (parterre) is the only place where decent sound is available. More specifically, the seats in the middle and between rows 5 and 20 (150€) offer both a respectable acoustics and a good view (unless your front row neighbor is a bit tall).

Tickets can be bought online (French or English version) but require that you register online and remember your ID number for further purchases, which basically is not at all practical (you also have to ID yourself even if you just want to check whose categories are available for a given performance). You cannot choose a specific seat with the system, all you can do is choose the category, then see which seat has been assigned to you (there's a preview button right to the price that give you an idea of where you are and what you'd see if the auditorium was empty on the day of the performance).

Example of preview; orchestra, row 12, seat 40)

The access to the Bastille Opera is very simple by underground (1,5 and 8 trains, arrêt Bastille); at the end of the performance though, if you plan on leaving via métro and want to avoid the crowd, a smart way to do so is to walk from the place de la Bastille to the Gare de Lyon (via rue de Lyon just left of the exiting doors), just a few blocks walk really, that will prevent you from been crushed in the underground trains (and in the Gare de Lyon, you'll be able to catch the 14 train - the best way to travel underground in Paris).

There's also a cab station nearby, but the cab situation in Paris being pretty hopeless, don't dream of finding one at the end of an evening performance (especially on Fridays and Saturdays when no available cabs can be found in the entire city from 8pm to 3am).

Current renovations on the facade (rue de Lyon)


Anonymous said...

I have not been to Bastille in five years, but I loved the restaurant in the building next door. They stayed open quite late and after the opera a stop there for a drink made a nice finish to the evening. There were always a couple of taxis waiting whenever we decided to go home.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, I've just bought a ticket to "Werther" and my seat is on 1st Balcon (row 2 No. 11).... is this really bad acoustic wise ? I should have read this first!!

Extatic said...

Well, at least you'll have a good overall view of the stage.
Don't forget to bring binoculars if you want to see the facial expressions of the singers.

As for the acoustics, it all depends on your standards.

Anonymous said...

I have a parterre ticket Porte 6 Allee E rang 20 Place 44 -- is that good? It's for the opening night of Wozzek at the Opera Bastille, September 17, 2009. My other question is, since it appears I have bought a ticket for the first opening night, what is the dress code for ladies? I don't want to be either overdressed or underdressed. Also, since I'm a tourist and traveling light, I would like to bring just the right clothes without overpacking. Your site is great -- very helpful. Is there a nice, safe restaurant or bar that you can recommend for a single female after the opera? Many thanks!

Extatic said...

Rang 20 is not too far so you will be able to see properly, unless the director has decided to stage the action on the far left of the scene (since Place 44 is a bit on the far right side I'm afraid).

As far as the dressing code is concerned, this is Bastille, so don't overdress (it's not the Met's opening night). Bastille's auditorium is always a bit cold to my taste, so I would recommend a jacket or a cardigan.

The streets around the opera are full of bars and places to eat, and the place de la Bastille is host to a wide variety of styles (nothing high-end though). I can't say it's my favorite quartier in Paris but I can assure you it's perfectly safe - it's France, not the US :).

Mary McGagh said...

Despite torrential rain I had no difficulty getting a cab just a little to the left of Bastille after a performance on a Wednesday night in May. However, I did leave before all the curtain calls ended.

I was surprised at the casual dress code even though I was seated in the parterre.