What is "comic opera"? A director wants to pass on a 300-year-old art

I realized that a lot of people don’t know what comic opera is… it doesn’t mean funny“, tells AFP Mr. Langrée, 61 years old.

In the golden triangle of the Right Bank (in Paris, editor’s note), there is the theater where we sing, the Paris Opera, the theater where we speak, the Comédie-Française, and the theater where we talk and sing, the Opéra Comique“, he recalls.

– Beauty and the Beast in opera –

The main works of this genre created at the Opéra Comique? The famous Carmen, “Daughter of the Regiment“, “The Damnation of Faust” or “The Tales of Hoffmann“.

If the comic opera was born in Paris, Mr. Langrée believes that “those who have best preserved the sung and spoken until now are the Anglo-Saxons with the +musicals+ (musicals)“.

West Side Story is a comic opera, there is no break between the spoken and the sung, the song is the extra emotion“, he adds.

He plans to launch an academy in September 2023 to train professional singers in this genre, but also pianists and conductors.

Appointed by President Emmanuel Macron in November 2021, Louis Langrée, himself an internationally renowned French maestro, programmed in the first season of his mandate one of the oldest works of its kind (1771), “Zemir and Azor“, according to “The beauty and the Beast“.

Out of fashion, comic opera? “These are not modern works but they have passed the filter of time, they tell humanity in a dimension outside of everyday life.“, underlines Mr. Langrée, who intends to order a composer to create music on a text by Maurice Maeterlinck, as Debussy did with “Pelléas and Mélisandeat the Opéra Comique.

Highlighting a forgotten repertoire was a mission already begun by his predecessor, Olivier Mantei (now general director of the Philharmonie de Paris), as was the development of sponsorship: from 689,000 euros in 2018, this rose to 1.77 million in 2021 and jumped to 2.9 million in 2022.

Relying on the team that worked with his predecessor, Mr. Langrée brings a unique expertise in fundraising and for good reason: he is also, since 2013, the musical director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

In the United States, patronage is a way of being part of the city, of society. I learned there that for them, it’s not just about loving an institution, but about feeling responsible for its future.“, he says.

– World Cup and NFT –

Today, patronage is no longer just coming to see an opera and drinking a glass of champagne during intermission.“, adds the director who was able to raise 26 million dollars from 25 wealthy families for his orchestra after the pandemic and will develop an international circle of “friends of the Opéra Comique“.

Among the projects at the Opera that have attracted the most patrons since its launch by the Mantei team: the Maîtrise Populaire, which trains young people aged 8 to 25, often from disadvantaged regions, in the performing arts (a budget of one million euros per year, 70% financed by sponsorship).

In 2018, the percentage of children from working-class neighborhoods integrating the Maîtrise was 23%, it has now risen to 60%. “Thanks to the rigor of the music, there is 100% success in the baccalaureate“Among these young people, he assures.

A highlight awaits the Maîtrise in 2023 when the children will sing the national anthems during the Rugby World Cup.

Developing societal projects, attracting audiences away from opera, but also proposing initiatives rooted in the 21st century: NFTs, these tamper-proof certificates of authenticity, created around “Carmen“, will soon be launched by the new director.


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