Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Opera in the Middle of Nowhere


I have to admit I was a bit skeptical of the cultural outing I had organized for us. Way back in January I noticed that an opera was coming to the nearby “big” city of Perigueux. What I saw was not a fancy add for a professional traveling show, but an article for a collaboration of local talent and internationally recognized performers. An association called Labopéra Périgord -Dordogne was going to present Verdi’s Traviata. What the heck, I bought two tickets in the hopes that if nothing else we were supporting a good thing for the local community. And if it was truly terrible we could sneak out at intermission. Now that I was committed I learned more about the organization.

At first glance this seemed like an impossible undertaking here in our middle of no where part of France. Some international “ringers” were to be brought in for a few roles but the bulk of the opera is produced and put on by local students and amateurs. Local students and amateurs?  Where were they going to climb out of the woodwork? Schools in France do not offer extra curricular activities like music, chorus, football, chess, etc., so there are not a lot of young classical musicians or singers. The few amateur choruses are spread out all over the region.  However it turns out that there are a lot of talented folks with the courage, the time, and the drive to pull off a major opera production. They just need the opportunity presented to them.

Cholé Meyzie, a music teacher and conductor in nearby Thiviers, is both the instigator of this project and the conductor of the orchestra. Through her national contacts she is able to bring together professionals and advanced amateurs, both on the stage and in the orchestra. 

There is a mix of fifty local musicians. Some are students in the regional Conservatoire. The youngest is 11 years old. His ambition is to play music for fun and to become a doctor. Then there is Nicolas, a clarinetist that is a plumber during the week. His dog Ulk is the mascot dog along with another dog, Gustave, hiding under the chair of a trumpeter.

The seventy member choir directed by Gersende Michel is composed of several vocal ensembles. There are teachers, surgeons (including a former chorist in Paris), and computer geeks. Learning to sing while dancing was hard for this ensemble, but learning the text in Italian was an even bigger challenge. The nine professionals arrived in early March. One of which, 29 year old Mathys, actually lives in the area. He was thrilled to be able to practice and perform and then go home to his own bed.

For this grand production the need didn’t stop at singers and musicians. The costumes were produced at the high school Léonard-de-Vinci in Périgueux. The sets were constructed by apprentice students from Thiviers and Chardeuil. 

All this pulled off with everyone coming together on weekends and school holidays so they could maximize time and decrease travel. The schedule was especially helpful to students that were preparing for their final exams.

Finally the big day arrived. We drove the 40 minutes to the other side of Perigueux where the concert hall The Palio is located. Not at all your beautiful opera house The Palio looks like a modern concrete bunker. You enter in to more concrete and imposing metal staircases. My hopes of an elegant outing were sinking. We entered the “concert” hall (mainly a place for pop music concerts for young wild things), more concrete, stadium style seating and erector set lighting looming overhead. Maybe we would leave at intermission after all….

The lights went out, the orchestra tuned up, the conductor took her place and they were off. Immediately we fell into the magnificence of the music, followed by the energy of the chorus and the strength of the principal singers voices. We really were at the opera! 

The Labopéra Périgord -Dordogne completely succeeded. We spent a magical time in the drama of Italian opera in our middle of nowhere part of France. Here we discovered that there are oh so many people that can come out of the woodwork. We are already looking forward to the next collaborative effort.


Kathie K said...

How cool! I love stumbling upon activities like this--things you never thought existed or had considered.

Amy B. said...

Hi, I saw the beautiful tea towels on the NBC Tour de France coverage! Do you have a website where you sell them! They look lovely!

A Small Village in France said...

Hello Amy - and anyone else trying to find tea towels....Please contact me at

Thank you for your enthusiastic interest!