An Italian opera director turns a painted Renaissance masterpiece on its head…

And much, much more.

PARIS — You can’t always expect to understand the work of Romeo Castellucci. But you’re sure to be awed by its beauty.

Especially when the Italian director — really, a polymathic theatrical artist — stages opera. His productions are rich in symbols and enigmas; each movement leads to a picture-perfect tableau….Mr. Castellucci’s latest project, Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” (“The First Homicide”), which continues at the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier through Feb. 23, is…relatively direct, yet still striking.

“It’s a portrait of Cain,” Mr. Castellucci said of Scarlatti’s 1707 oratorio, an account of the Cain and Abel story, in an interview under the ornate chandeliers of the Garnier’s grand foyer. “But it’s really about innocence.”

The switch from adult singers to children happens the moment Cain murders Abel. “We are in the domain of childhood,” Mr. Castellucci said. “It is a childish mythology.”

A story of jealousy and murder, in his telling, becomes one of rediscovering lost innocence, of adults in search of their youthful doppelgängers….a journey abounding in imaginative stage magic — with layers of lighting and scrims, Mr. Castellucci conjures vast Rothko canvases that have the soft seamlessness of a James Turrell — reaches its end.




The soprano Birgitte Christensen, center, as Eve.CreditJulien Mignot for The New York Times

For the scene in which Eve learns she will be a mother, Mr. Castellucci thought of the Annunciation — the angel Gabriel delivering the news to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. So he turned to “Annunciation With St. Margaret and St. Ansanus,” an Italian Gothic triptych by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi that now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.

But he turned it upside down. As Eve sings of her coming motherhood, the massive altarpiece is lowered, slowly, above her head. “It’s a kind of guillotine,” Mr. Castellucci said. “A menace.”


Art nouveau church in Paris

There’s a beautiful church in Montmartre that was a revelation (ha ha) to me on my recent visit in Paris.  Here it is:771161497_7c94bcdbb6_b

The church is Saint Jean de Montmartre.



I think it is fair to say I’ve spent a lot of time visiting churches, to study Renaissance architecture, sculpture, and paintings.  But, this church in Montmartre was the first ever Art Nouveau church I’ve ever seen and it was as lovely as it was interesting.












So, here’s what Wikipedia shares about this interesting church:

The Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is located at 19 Rue des Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement.  Situated at the foot of Montmartre, it is notable as the first example of reinforced concrete in church construction. Built from 1894 through 1904, it was designed by architect Anatole de Baudot, a student of Viollet-le-Duc and Henri Labrouste. The brick and ceramic tile-faced structure exhibits features of Art Nouveau design while exploiting the superior structural qualities of reinforced concrete with lightness and transparency. The Art Nouveau stained glass was executed by Jac Galland according to the design of Pascal Blanchard. Interior sculpture was by Pierre Roche.

The reinforced concrete structure followed a system developed by the engineer Paul Cottancin. Construction was attended by skepticism over the properties of the new material, which violated rules laid down for unreinforced masonry construction. A lawsuit delayed construction, resulting in a demolition order that was not resolved until 1902, when construction was resumed.

There is a guided tour of the church on every fourth Sunday of the month at 4:00 PM.

The Church of Saint-Jean-Montmartre was commissioned by Montmartre priest Father Sobbeaux. The population of the town was growing and the only other abbey church, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre was too small. Saint-Pierre de Montmartre was located at the top hill of Montmartre, and could only serve those living up there. The new church was part of Fr. Sobbeaux’s personal mission to evangelize the population of the lower part of the hill, and he was responsible for raising all the funds for construction.

Using reinforced concrete on Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre resulted in the church being quite ahead of its time and, and building codes had not caught up yet. Cottancin’s system was so new and revolutionary, it was difficult for people to believe the structure would actually stand. Even other architects opposed the plan, and believed it would collapse.

The church was built in ten years, the reason for it taking so long was because construction had to be stopped as a result of a lawsuit filed in 1898 due to ” non-conformity of town planning”.

Next came an order for the demolition of the building. This resulted in the performance of innumerable tests to ensure the structural integrity of the building. To save the church, Baudot and Sobbeaux set up technical demonstrations. They recreated the pillars and flagstone floor in the garden of the church to prove the strength and stability of the building. This demonstration reassured the skeptics and the order for the destruction of the church was lifted.

Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is the first religious building to be made from concrete, understandably there was some concern over the aesthetic qualities of the material. The red brick facade, is used for decoration as well as additional support an insulation. The exterior is also embellished with geometric designs made from multicolored sandstone pearls. Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre is in the architectural style art nouveau, one of the few Parisian churches in this style.[6] The theme of the exterior and interior design is based off the writings of St. John- The fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.




Versailles in 3 minutes

Few tourists making their first trip to France go home without having seen Versailles. But why do so many want to see Versailles in the first place? Yes, its history goes all the way back to the 1620s, with its comparatively modest beginnings as a hunting lodge built for King Louis XIII, but much in Europe goes back quite a bit further. It did house the French royal family for generations, but absolute monarchy hasn’t been a favored institution in France for quite some time. Only the most jaded visitors could come away unimpressed by the palace’s sheer grandness, but those in need of a hit of ostentation can always get it on certain shopping streets in Paris. The appeal of Versailles, and of Versailles alone, must have more do with the way it physically embodies centuries of French history.

You can watch that history unfold through the construction of Versailles, both exterior and interior, in these two videos from the official Versailles Youtube channel. The first begins with Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, which, when the “Sun King” Louis XIV inherited its site, had been replaced by a small stone-and-brick chateau. There Louis XIV launched an ambitious building campaign, and the half-century-long project ultimately produced the largest chateau in all Europe.



The Moulin Rouge, Paris


I’ve never been to a performance at the Moulin Rouge, and it is unlikely I ever will go.  Nevertheless, on my recent trip to gay Paree, I took a guided tour through the area of Montmartre and this is where we started.

It threw me right back to late 19th century French painting, especially with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  How I do love his posters of this genre!  Before I add some of them, please enjoy these candid shots taken on a cold December morning in 2018.












And now, the real thing(s):