Opera Nice in the Afternoon

Just before the latest lockdown in Nice, we had the opportunity to see a rehearsal in the beautiful Nice Opera House. I vividly remember our tour of the Paris Opera House, with its Chagall ceiling, and we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see the inside of the Opera House in Nice.


As a college sophomore, I went to a screening on campus of Koyaanisqatsi, which Google Search describes thusly: “Drawing its title from the Hopi word meaning ‘life out of balance,’ this renowned documentary reveals how humanity has grown apart from nature.” The film uses striking music and imagery to paint a bleak picture of our world as it existed then, almost 40 years ago. I have been intrigued by the work of Philip Glass, who composed the score, ever since.

I noticed a poster while returning from dinner prior to lockdown one night. Opera Nice was promoting an upcoming production of Akhenaten, an opera by Philip Glass. As a long time fan, I was definitely interested.

Glass’s compositions are extremely repetitive, demanding the attention of the listener for long periods of time. I wasn’t sure if Diana would enjoy it, so I was happy to see the Opera was offering access to a rehearsal free of charge. Great, we could have a look and decide whether to get one seat or two for the full performance later.


We chose to view an afternoon rehearsal because I was concerned an evening event might end too close to the 9 pm curfew then in effect. So, we decided to make a day of it and do some touristy stuff prior to the doors opening at 4 pm.

We arrived at the theatre around 3:30 pm, in the rain, a bit tired from the sightseeing. A small line had formed outside the opera house. Although we wanted to sit somewhere and have a quick drink (for our health, of course), I was nervous about not being able to get in if the line grew too large. So, we stood in line until we were let in around 4 pm.

Waiting in line


The current opera house in Nice dates to 1885. It was erected after a fire destroyed a prior theater on the site during a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. The back of the building is on the Quai des États-Unis, facing the Mediterranean.

The interior is beautiful. The floor seating is plush, but it has seen better days and is not comfortable. Several productions had their French debut at the opera house and many luminaries have visited, including Tsar Alexander II and various other kings. Johann Strauss led the orchestra when Napolean III attended a performance.

Opera Lite

We had never attended an opera rehearsal before, despite being subscribers to Opera San Jose for 3 years. This rehearsal was mostly about stage positioning and choreography while singing through the parts. There were no costumes and the only music was provided by a solo pianist, who couldn’t do any justice to the intricate Glass score.

Some accommodations had to be made for Covid-19. Lucinda Childs, the 80-year-old avant-garde choreographer, was unable to travel from New York. So the company set up a Cisco telepresence system for her to work from home with the cast in Nice.

Maybe as another nod to Covid, the company of performers was quite small. As you can see below, no more than 8 people on stage at any given time. Also, some performers sang through masks, with a bit of loss of volume.

Perhaps Another Time

Generally, I found the production lacking. I wondered if enough of an orchestra would be present to fulfill the promise of the Glass score. I had difficulty hearing the singers, even though the hall was mostly empty. The undersized company was not inspiring. The highly pitched stage seemed like a gimmick to cover up the small number of singers.

We did attend in the late afternoon after running around town earlier in the day and Diana fell asleep almost immediately. While we do like opera, the repetitive nature of the score had her nodding off the entire time. She described it as a drug-induced coma and as soon as we left she was wide awake again.

I decided to check online for other productions of Akhenaten. As it happens, the NY Met did it just last year. Their production seemed much fuller, not as stark as the one I saw rehearsed. I will keep an eye out for Akhenaten in the future.

Post-Covid, I’d be interested in trying another production to see what the company can do in better times. The next time, I would probably try some box seats, they looked like they would be more comfortable.

In the end, the lockdown was imposed 3 days before the premiere of the opera, so public performances were canceled. The production has been filmed and will be released online. I feel very badly for the company, who worked diligently through difficult conditions to produce the opera. I look forward to supporting them in the future.

Which opera or opera company do you recommend?

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  1. Bringing back memories of tracing down 1000 airplanes on the roof! I’ll have to do some searching to see if any Glass operas are scheduled around us.

  2. I am not an opera fan but I am quite familiar with Akhenaten from a historical perspective because of my interest in Egyptology. The story is fascinating and significant relative to his illness, his religion, his family, and the politics surrounding him.

  3. I know we heard about it when we were in Egypt but I didn’t get any of the story from the opera, even though it was in English. It might have helped if had stayed awake. ?

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