Today, it’s hard to imagine that crowd control would be needed for an opera performance, but in Paris of the 1950s and 1960s, it could cause quite a stir. In this era, the Opéra de Paris organized gala evenings that attracted the crème de la crème of the French and international elite.
Sergei Loznitsa, IDFA’s guest of honor in 2016, has composed a masterfully edited ultimate gala evening from the vast collection of archive footage. It’s a film about class, social standing, and ritual. Gentlemen and ladies with fur stoles climb the steps of the Palais Garnier accompanied by a fanfare. Everywhere is the sparkle of jewels. Charles de Gaulle and Brigitte Bardot arrive. Then come the royals, including Grace Kelly, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Juliana. After the ritual reception with girls bearing bouquets, they take their seats in the royal box.
The apotheosis of this dream opera evening is a performance by Maria Callas, with an unparalleled rendition of “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville. The crowds of people standing outside are treated to fireworks.