A first visit to Toulouse planned around La Traviata
Toulouse, La Ville Rose (The Pink City), so called for the iron-oxide-rich stone and clay bricks used here for centuries, is a city I’d long wanted to visit. As it has a good music scene, I planned around opera, and found I could work in a visit when La Traviata was being performed. Hard even for me to believe, but I’d never seen this opera staged, although I’ve listened to all its arias since my college years. I think of this opera as a series of greatest hits all strung together in one marvelous show. It’s just nonstop gorgeous. Could hardly wait!
I can’t resist sharing this music in case any readers don’t know it, so am offering some youtube links. And if you happen to be reading this even though you think you don’t like opera, please please please give these links a listen.
Just in the first act, we hear:
- Libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko, Salzburg Festival)
- Un dì, felice, eterea (Pretty Yende & Benjamin Bernheim, Opéra national de Paris)
- È strano! … Ah, fors’ è lui .. Follie … Sempre libera (Edita Gruberova, Teatro La Fenice)
- De’ miei bollenti spiriti (Giuseppe di Stefano)
I had to include di Stefano, as I’ve listened to his recordings of this aria perhaps a thousand times! We only have audio, so we can’t see the production. But we can listen to this stunning performer. Do!
And Act 2’s first scene has all this:
- Pura siccome un angelo … Dite alla giovine, sì bella e pura (Sherrill Milnes and Mirella Freni)
- Amami, Alfredo, amami quant’io t’amo (Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez, Metropolitan Opera)
- Di Provenza il mar (Thomas Hampson)
Surely you’re convinced now! What beauty, what a joy to listen! You see how very different one production is from another. I can spend endless hours comparing performances of these arias. In fact, for the aria “Di Provenza il mar” I have some favorite singers from long ago, but wanted to share links from filmed operas. If you like these arias, search and hear some other singers. Or send me a message (“Leave a reply” below) and I’ll share my aria playlist with you.
Logistics and lodging for a brief visit
I came by train from Nîmes on Tuesday, April 25, after opera in Montpellier two days earlier. Following Google maps, I caught a local bus and got off about 4 blocks from my hostel, La petite auberge de Saint-Sernin, of course near the church of the same name. I had a mixed dorm room for 22 euros a night, with some minimal kitchen facilities right in the room. Aside from the moldy shower, it wasn’t bad, and the location was easy walking distance to the opera.
Taco trucks? Nope, empanadas – and a great wine store
Place Arnaud Bernard, where I got off the bus, had an interesting-looking Argentinian empanada truck that I decided I’d come back to – and I noted an intriguing wine store just opposite. Great, I felt like eating very lightly but also looked forward to trying some new-to-me regional red. When I went back to make my buys, I browsed the selections for quite a while as there were so many fascinating bottles at Mr. Pepin’s. The bottle I chose turned out to be a winner, and the empanadas from El Gaucho 31, with good chimichurri, were very satisfying. So far, so good! I repeated this meal plan (LOL) the next days, and happily, the wine stayed delicious.
Diloy’s got me opera-ready
I’d been wanting to get my hair cut and colored, but wanted it done in France. No time till Toulouse. I found a salon called Diloy’s (a chain, I learned) on Blvd Lascrosses very close to me. I was feeling like such a witch with hair way too long for me.
Filling a free night with neighborhood theater
With opera on Thursday, I had a free night. A brochure at the hostel had the program of Theatre le Fil au Plomb, just up the street, and I decided to go to the Wednesday performance, extremely rude title notwithstanding (Du Fist au Phaedre). Sounded amusing, tickets were cheap, why not. I found it pretty dreadful, like one of NYC’s poorer Off-Off-Broadway shows I would explore back in the 1980s. A French immersion evening, at least.
The teased blunder you’ve been waiting for
Thursday, off I went to the opera good and early, and very excited. I got to the square of the Capitole and went circling the building wondering where the entrance was. And where all the people were. Well, they were simply elsewhere, as the performances were Wednesday, Friday and the weekend. Not Thursday.
How on earth!?!? I use my own “Where’s Pat?” page to keep my schedule straight, and I’d put that together months earlier. It had always shown Thursday for the event.
I have only recently figured out how I messed up so badly. When I changed the time zone on my online calendar, all the events I’d entered moved a day. And last Nov-Dec, I had entered events when I booked them in Missouri – and then updated the time zone in January when I made my page. Don’t know how I overlooked correcting this one event. I was crushed, and none too pleased with myself.
A happy ending
I checked to see if I could get a ticket for Friday, my only chance as I was leaving Saturday. Sold out. Of course. Oh, not quite true, there was one prestige ticket available for 135 euros. I’m really indulging myself with opera performances (and a few other concerts and some theater) in this house-free interim of mine, but I’m not allowing myself tickets to Covent Garden, Opera Garnier, La Scala and others in that price range, and buying a second ticket here would bring me to that level. So, sadly, No. Checked for standing room tickets. No such thing in Toulouse.
Last option, go to the theater early and check for returned tickets or no-shows. A lot of people had the same interest, and I was about twelfth in line. I kept an eye on the crowd, looking for people alone and on their phones. Would someone be calling to see why a friend hadn’t yet shown up, and be learning the friend couldn’t make it? Right: in my dreams. I approached a number of people, asking if they had an extra ticket to sell. Close to show time, a well-dressed man asked if I was looking for a ticket. Yes. “If I offered you a gift, would you accept it?” (in French, of course) The question was a bit strangely and intensely posed, startling me. He repeated it. Yes, gladly! And so he offered me a ticket, one of many in his wallet. Another woman came up and he gave her one, too.
We couldn’t believe our luck. They were wonderful orchestra seats. The performance was a delight. Finally! I saw a live performance of La Traviata. I know it’s one of the operas my aunt loved to perform, and I thought of her throughout the evening. Afterwards, I looked for my benefactor outside the theater and had a chance to thank him. I asked how he had so many tickets, and he said he’d booked for a group of thirty and there were a lot who couldn’t come. Lucky me, then. And a lovely experience!
Find and book your next concert
And be sure to put the right date on your calendar. Double-check. Heck, triple.
Does this bring back any memory of yours? Please share!
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