La Dame aux Camélias: crusty old fogeys, jumping for joy

Off to Palais Garnier with Greg to see Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias. Miraculously, the weather was nice and cool so I didn’t feel too hot in my dinner jacket. Just before the actual performance, about fifteen very distinguished people had gathered in a small salon for an investiture ceremony at which Madame Lily Safra was given the Médaille de grand mécène, a well-deserved tribute to her exceptional generosity, by the Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.

We then went on to watch the performance itself. I wonder why it took so long for this wonderful ballet piece, created in 1978, to be included in the Opera’s répertoire. L’Express wrote an interesting review detailing the story of a book that I find more up-to-date than ever and of a character for whom I have had deep sympathy for years in all her succeeding guises: novel, opera and now ballet. I discovered in that Express article that Alphonsine Duplessis, the original character in La Dame aux camélias, had died at 47 boulevard de la Madeleine, just next to the Palais Garnier. The audience, made up of the very staid old-fogey members of Association pour le rayonnement de l’Opéra de Paris, were clearly delighted: the plot, the décor, Chopin’s lovely music, everything tonight demonstrates that Western civilisation hasn’t yet collapsed and the massive cheques that they have been sending the Opera aren’t being totally mis-spent. And, actually, for once, they’re right: this ballet is quite splendid. They’re quite right to give their hard-earned money to the Opera, especially as 66 per cent is now tax-deductible. And, to top it all, Hervé Moreau dances incredibly well.

The supper-parties that follow those AROP dos can sometimes, to be honest, be a bit hard-going. As it turned out, we were seated at a nice table with group of very cool young fogeys (as opposed to the standard old ones), so all was well. So cool were they, in fact, that half missed the supper-party altogether. Never mind, we actually went on afterwards to a party at Maxim’s in a totally different atmosphere, thus demonstrating that Western civilisation is not only well alive, but also increasingly diverse.