The show is mesmerizing. Once a year, the backdoors of the Palais Garnier stage are opened onto the Foyer de la Danse, a large golden room, framed by columns and presided over by a magnificent chandelier that personifies the spirit of this theater, inaugurated January 5, 1875. The Foyer was then the setting for discreet rendezvous between opera patrons and dancers. It is still used as a daily rehearsal and warm-up room. Intimate and secretive, the space, though sumptuous, is concealed from the public eye. Except for one evening per year: the annual Dance Gala, an exclusive fundraising soirée presented by the Paris Opera and AROP (Association pour le Rayonnement de l’Opéra de Paris).
The Masked-Life of a Maestro in Times of Covid-19
Part Two of a digital conversation with Keri-Lynn Wilson presented by The American Friends of the Paris Opera and Ballet
Access to the full video of the webinar at the bottom of the post.
For a year now, governments—and often doctors—have redesigned how people can live to combat and survive the Covid-19 pandemic. In some regions, entire sectors have sometimes been shut down: travels, restaurants, hotels, and sport arenas, but also bookstores, museums, theaters, concert halls, and opera houses. Culture and art often don’t fall into the lines of the iconic contemporary word: ‘essential.’
Remarkably though, the Paris Opera was opened for a few weeks in the Fall of 2020. Hopes were then high in France that Covid-19 was being contained, yet it came back with a revenge. While rehearsing Carmen for her debut at the Bastille Opera, Maestro Keri-Lynn Wilson experienced it first-hand. Within a minute, rehearsals were halted, and the opera shut down by the French Government. The same happened for movie theaters, museums, bars, and restaurants.
Wilson’s dream of conducting in Paris was postponed. So, she went back to New York and resumed what she had been doing since March 2020: sharing music online and studying new scores. She created a ‘Becoming the Conductor Series,’ on Instagram, launched a YouTube Channel, built her own playlist on Spotify, and shared many videos and recordings on her website.
Live on the Web, A Star is Born
A French version of this article was published on Le Petit Journal
It was a first on the stage at the Bastille Opéra in Paris. Not the first performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s La Bayadère. This ballet—the last great creation of the Russian-born choreographer and director of Dance in Paris in the 1980s—has been part of the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire since 1992. Nor the fact that this Bayadère was sold and broadcast live on the internet through the new online platform “L’Opéra Chez Soi.”
No, the great novelty this Sunday 13 December 2020 in Paris was a nomination unlike any other, ultimate and without an audience.
At Your Home Without Me: Jerry Wonda Shares Music He Loves
When I connected via Zoom with producer and former Fugees’ bass player Jerry Wonda Duplessis, I was greeted with music and rhythm, Bowie’s Let’s Dance! Seated with his bass guitar at arms’ reach at his Minnesota studio, minutes away from Prince’s home and the sadly well-known street where George Floyd was choked to death, Wonda is doing what he loves the most, sharing the music he loves.
His music of course. That includes hits such as Fugees’ cover of Killing Me Softly, Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie, Carlos Santana’s Maria Maria, Melissa Ethridge’s Pulse and more recently the viral success of Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka’s What We Want.
Music from others as well. That day, Wonda was in the mood for the period-worthy Harold Melvin’s Wake Up Everybody and a song he and I both like dearly, The Eagles’ iconic Hotel California. With some of his musical friends, Wonda launched early May ‘Share Music You Love,’ an initiative to raise funds for MusiCares and help musicians while concerts are halted. A UN Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti, Wonda is also working on bringing music, voices and musicians, professionals or not, from all over the world into a song to symbolize unity.
Born in Haiti, Wonda has never forgotten the donkey he rode to school before he moved to East Orange, New Jersey, into the home of his cousin, Wyclef Jean. He now lives for sharing his luck and dreams with others, children who like him, are born into poverty. “I went to school to be a recording engineer,” Wonda told me, “but I wanted to be Quincy Jones. I wanted to make the music, I wanted to be a producer. I wanted to produce a lot of Michael Jacksons!”
And so, he did.
At Your Home, Without Me: Ramatuelle, Jacqueline Franjou’s Essential Festival
Tonight, August 1st, 2020–and until August 10th. If you are in Ramatuelle, a little village above the Mediterranean Sea near Saint Tropez in the South of France, you might be among the luckiest people. While almost all summer cultural events have been canceled in France, Jacqueline Franjou is opening the 2020 Festival of Ramatuelle, a series of plays, stand-up comedies, and concerts under the stars and the songs of crickets. A must attend annual event, a rarity this year.
This summery feast has been scheduled every August since 1985. But with movies, theaters, operas and museums still closed in most places around the world because of containment and a very much still present covid19 pandemic, the mere possibility to see comedians and musicians on a stage has become an extraordinary experience. This year’s Festival is an act of audacity and resistance, against all odds, a small, yet safe step to keep us on the pace of being humans, together.
I was fortunate to attend last summer and I remember fondly the performance of French actor Gérard Depardieu (Golden Globe 1991 for Peter Weir’s movie Green Card) sing Barbara’s most iconic songs in a soft and elusive voice.
I cannot go this summer but will have a special thought for Franjou, the co-founder and President of this Festival, a woman I was lucky enough to work with for a few years and who has never been afraid to be disruptive to keep all of us thinking beyond the obvious. We need this festival, we need culture to fill our hopes and dreams, we need words and scores and stories to pave our immediate future.
Next is the translation from a French interview I did with Franjou while I was still confined in New York and she was already planning this week’s performances (published in Le Petit Journal).