The Momentous Re-Opening of Montpellier’s La Comédie
By Liam Klenk
During the last two months, I’ve hiked from Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea, in an effort to do something positive in a year that has been anything but. I love being a stage manager… and I miss it. I also love going to as many live performances as possible as an audience member… and I miss it. So, experiencing the momentous re-opening of Montpellier’s La Comédie on Sept 11, 2020 was one of the major highlights of my journey, thus far.
As I hiked through the Swiss, then the French mountains and countryside it was more of an accident that I ended up in Montpellier.
Frustrated with my disastrous French, I made the impulsive decision to make this charming town my home for a few weeks.
Only a couple days later, I came upon the marvelous news that the Montpellier opera house – La Comédie – was going to be re-opened on Sept 11, 2020!
Even more amazing, to celebrate the occasion, all tickets were going to be sold for 10 Euros only, to make the event accessible to interested individuals from all walks of life.
Needless to say, I immediately ran to get a ticket. The performance was sold out. But then, it turned out my French language school had secured a few reservations for their students.
I couldn’t write my name on that registration list fast enough.
Last night was the big night.
Arriving at La Comédie was already exciting. The beautiful old doors which had remained firmly closed for six months now stood open.
Spectators, dressed in elegant evening clothes – and not so elegant face masks – strode through the entrance. Ushers directed them to their respective doorways inside the stunning Comédie. One of the most beautiful opera houses in France I’ve been told.
Even seeing the sign saying “Parterre” made me so happy, I wanted to start whooping with joy.
We were going to see ‘La Révolte des Trois Grâces‘ a “concert partage”, which is the term the French use to describe a cultural event which is not easily defined as one specific genre.
I breathed in the atmosphere of the elegant building. I photographed like a madman, somehow feeling the need to document this moment for eternity.
Then, I went inside the auditorium. It was smaller than I had imagined, yet gorgeous. Red and gold were the prevailing colors. This made me think of my many years spent in China, where both colors are considered lucky colors, signifying good fortune and wealth.
At that moment, this was truer than ever.
About to see my first live performance since before the lockdown in March 2020, I felt immensely rich. Seeing that it was a strange coincidence for me to be there at this moment in time, I also felt incredibly lucky.
Looking at the audience made me feel both happy and sad. There was something unsettling about the regularity of empty seats.
Every second seat had been marked with a little stop sign to prevent people from taking it.
There also was something strange about seeing all spectators wearing face masks.
At this point in time, I am not sure if will ever get used to not being able to see people’s facial expressions during performances. To see their happiness. And to be able to have a truly collective experience together.
Soon, ‘La Révolte des Trois Grâces‘ began. it was indeed a “concert partage”, a quirky mix of theatre, musical, operetta, and opera.
The director addressed the story of the Three Graces, a greek myth, and a statue which can be seen right outside the Montpellier opera building. On the Place de la Comédie.
The stage had been left in a state of disarray. Being a theatre practitioner myself, I kept fighting the urge to run up there and clean up a bit. Lighting fixtures, road cases, ladders, etc. had been left lying and standing on stage.
To symbolize a state of transformation and construction. This left the Three Graces with only a small, elevated island in the midst of chaos.
The Three Graces sang their hearts out because they were going to be replaced with a housing project and a new IKEA building. They lamented social media, and even somehow managed to artfully serenade us about the current state of affairs due to Covid-19.
It was a true privilege to be able to witness a live performance again. To bask in sunshine on the glorious beach of creativity.
I never quite managed to forget about the empty seats next to me though, or about my face mask. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, albeit dominated by happiness.
After only one hour, ‘La Révolte des Trois Grâces’ ended far too soon.
The audience did their very best to make up for all the empty spaces. We clapped as loud and as long as we could.
Our efforts couldn’t possibly match the roaring enthusiasm of a full house. However, we still managed to prevail and make the beautiful opera house seem a bit fuller than it actually was.
As ambivalent as my thoughts are about the whole experience, the most important aspect of witnessing beauty on a stage again was exactly that: AGAIN. I saw an actual live performance in a large performance venue – again. Something we feared might not happen for a long time.
So, I’ll allow myself to be hopeful, optimistic, and enthusiastic.
In whatever way, shape, or form, our industry will prevail! We will be back!