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What do volcanic ash and the Gypsy Kings have in common?
A Berlin-based colleague who is also an avid opera enthusiast held out hope until the last minute but realized early Friday that she would not be able to travel to Paris for the weekend as planned thanks to the plume of ash gushing out from Iceland's volcano and causing air travel chaos in Europe and beyond.
Disappointed, she sent a message asking if anyone would be interested in taking her place at three theater performances she had booked and prepaid. Grateful, I accepted the unexpected and generous offer and with a few clicks to print out the electronic tickets and instructions, I was on my way to a weekend of cultural immersion.
The first night’s performance was Mignon at the Opera Comique, one of the country’s oldest theaters founded in 1714. And contrary to my expectation, there was nothing comic about the performance. Opera Comique, it turns out, is a genre of operatic theater where spoken dramatic lines are interspersed with singing, unlike in traditional opera.
On the second night, there was a masked Zorro swinging from the rafters of the Folies Bergere music hall, where Josephine Baker banana danced her way into French hearts in the 1920s.
Actors belted out full-throated songs, including popular Gypsy Kings tunes like “Djobi, Djoba” and “Bamboleo.” The plot, a love story with a happy ending, combined gypsy lore and flamenco dance numbers; the hero in his crusade for justice defended damsels in distress and dispensed with villains. The sets were magnificent and by the end of the high-energy performance, the audience was on its feet, swaying to the music.
Rounding out my theatrical weekend extravaganza was an afternoon performance of Rossini’s Barber of Seville at the modern Bastille Opera. There I was in the center of the second row facing the stage, just behind the orchestra conductor. Being so close almost made me feel like I was part of show.
For years, I had walked past the building located in the shadow of the Bastille monument never imagining that the performance space would resemble the interior of a vast spaceship. The stage sets were even more elaborate, taking spectators from the desert to a colorful Middle Eastern living room with seemingly little effort.
Taking advantage of my colleague’s tickets was not only a way to amuse myself on a spectacular spring weekend, it was also a way to salvage some of the untold waste this volcanic eruption has engendered.