I love taking a peek behind the scenes of anything creative – movies, fashion, art, crafts. I love to see how the magic is made, the skill and passion and focus that goes into creating something special. If you feel the same be sure to check out The Paris Opera on DVD.
The Paris Opera follows new director Stephane Lissner as he navigates through his first season at the world famous art institution. The Paris Opera actually comprises two major venues, the opulent Palais Garnier and the more modern Opera Bastille as well as schools and training centers for both opera and ballet plus extensive craft workshops. Ballets, operas and concerts are regular events at both locations and require intense coordination on multiple levels. Amidst this controlled chaos, Lissner must negotiate politics, strike threats, wage disputes, replacing key personnel at critical times and, after a massive bull is hired to appear in an opera, calm the fears of the chorus who will be on stage with him.
The film focuses on what goes on backstage, long before and after a show is presented. The rigorous training the ballet dancers undergo, the auditioning of a new, young opera singer, the hammering out of new choreography, the building of sets and sewing of costumes. The Paris Opera relies heavily on new technology – lights run by computers, for instance, but also the more traditional skills – wig making, costumes, makeup. You see very little of any performances, just glimpses and usually from the wings of the stage – the utter exhaustion of a ballet dancer after she has finished her solo, the opera singer soaked with perspiration trying to make herself presentable before taking her bows, the lighting director singing along with the singers on stage, the maids who clean, the chorus practicing just before going on stage, the cleaning and ironing of the costumes. It is an endless cycle of creation and recreation and while talent plays a part, it is mostly possible through hard work and dedication.
Catherine Buchanan writes a heartrending, gripping novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris in The Painted Girls.
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other. (description from publisher)
Nearing the end of her life, prima ballerina Nina Revskaya is again haunted by memories of the past, memories that she had thought were safely hidden and forgotten in the poignant novel Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.
Born and raised in Moscow during the Cold War, Nina’s talent and skill not only ensure her career at the Bolshoi Ballet, it insulates her from many of the harsh realities of life in Stalinist Russia. She falls in love with the poet Victor Elsin, develops a circle of friends that includes writers and composers and enjoys a life of relative comfort. The illusion is shattered when a close friend is arrested and sent to a labor camp, forcing Nina to confront the true nature of the corrupt and unforgiving government. Disillusionment, a shocking betrayal and a daring escape plan propel Nina into the West where her star continues to rise.
Now an old woman wracked with illness, Nina decides to sell her jewels with the proceeds going to charity. Most of the jewels are from her admirers, but a few, particularly a rare and valuable set of amber, are from Russia. Bringing them out into the public eye brings the return of painful memories, of lost love and rash decisions, decisions that reverberate across time and now confront Nina once again.
Moving between present-day Boston and 1950s Soviet Union creates fascinating contrasts in this novel, as well as ratcheting up the tension as separate stories build. From fine jewelry to the ballet to the living conditions of ordinary people in Stalinist Russia, Kalotay effortlessly crafts a bittersweet story of love and friendship and the righting of past wrongs.