Once upon a time there was a princess. Like most fairy tale princesses, she was born in a castle to a king and a queen and falls victim to an evil curse. In The Light Princess, a 19th century story by George MacDonald, the spell on the newborn removes her gravity. Light of body and spirit, she floats in the air laughing at everything and everyone all the time! The story unravels as the royal couple try to find a cure for the malediction so that their daughter will grow up with her feet on the ground, both literally and figuratively. Oh, and of course live happily ever after.
This Scottish tale was the inspiration for an original French creation, La Princesse Légère, at the Opéra Comique in Paris. The opera, by contemporary composer Violeta Cruz, was presented last March during the first youth opera festival which we attended with our son. The poetic interpretation put to inventive music (incorporating electronic instruments, post modern costumes and scenery) made for an entertaining performance. There is a moral to the story, as with most fairy tales, precisely because this princess is unlike all others. Her “difference” evokes how children navigate the world of adults while the parents discover and learn to appreciate the uniqueness of their offspring.
As the parent of a now adult autistic child with frequent seizures, I can certainly empathize with the King and Queen’s desperate search for answers. One scene in particular, where the royalty consults Dr. Malofoi whose heartless advice has grave consequences, rang shockingly true. Another similarity is that the Princesse finds comfort submerging herself in the lake. Many people on the autism spectrum are attracted to water and enjoy aquatic activities. Several relatable moments show the Princesse drifting away while the servants search for her or try to hold her down. I couldn’t help but wonder, if only she had had a weighted vest.
Opera For All
There were teachable moments both on and off stage on the day we attended the family-friendly festival. La Princesse Légère had audio description, an additional track of narration for visually impaired or blind audiences. Hosted by Fondation Gecina, families brought their children for a special “behind the scenes” visit of the sumptuous Opéra Comique alongside visitors with visual handicaps accompanied by Action Handicap France (AHF). After the tour, there was a sensory awareness workshop lead by a moderator who orally guided participants through tactile models of the building. This provided an additional reference for people with visual impairments and instilled sensitivity in the children who, blindfolded, tried to follow the same instructions. What better way to promote social inclusion than to share an activity around a mutual interest in the performing arts? Everyone sang in chorus during an opera lesson in the Salle Bizet. Last but not least, Gecina offered everyone a delicious goûter (the French equivalent of high tea) in the lavishly decorated foyer.
The Opéra Comique strives to be accessible to the public at large addressing not only inter-generational audiences but those with specific needs and underserved populations. Supported by the Fondation Gecina, the Opéra Comique partners with several associations such as AHF and Accès Culture, to enhance access to people with auditory, visual and physical handicaps. The 2019 season will include a collaboration with Ciné-ma Difference. The addition of their Fa-Si-La difference volunteers to Salle Favart’s existing adaptations for sensory impairments intend to make Opéra Comique even more welcoming to audiences with developmental disabilities. The inaugural “Dimanche Relax” will take place on July 15, 2018 during the youth targeted opera “Bohème, notre jeunesse”. Action Handicap France also assures front line staff training at this esteemed cultural venue. There is an accessibility department head dedicated to providing accommodations for patrons and visitors with disabilities.
La Princesse Légère was my son’s first live performance in the opera house also known as Salle Favart. Besides the pre-visit and valuable documents that you can view by clicking on the title, a program in large type with a short summary of the story further prepared us for the opera. Additionally, we had been there last year for an architectural tour following the extensive renovation. During that visit, we learned that “Opéra Comique” refers to the building but also to the musical genre -sung and spoken- both opera and commedia dell’arte. I highly recommend the tour not only for the rich history but in advance of a live performance. Familiarizing my son with his surroundings helps him to focus and reduces anxiety about expectations. There is so much to take in visually, such as the intricate mosaic patterns, that it may be overwhelming for first-time visitors on the autism spectrum. It might even be possible to “meet your seat” or attend short presentation about the opera. If you can’t get there prior to a performance, Opéra Comique provides many possibilities to prepare online with information and videos. If you require spacious seating or “wiggle room”, the box seats are ideal.
Opera lovers as well as novices to this unique (and frankly Parisian) genre will be enthralled by this architectural jewel of a cultural venue and the performance art called Opéra Comique. If you have been there, please share your experience in the comments below.
The Opéra Comique is located at place Boieldieu in the 2nd arrondissment of Paris. The main entrance is on the square. There is a wheelchair accessible entrance at 5 rue Favart for people with reduced mobility.
Accessibility: There is a 20% reduction for spectators with a disability and one companion on the price of a ticket which varies according to performances and level. The theater has 14 possible placements for wheelchairs dispersed on all levels and accessible by elevators. There are headphones and hearing induction loops available free of charge for people with hearing impairments. Three operas per season have audio description for people with visual impairments. Check the website for details and for further information call 33 1 70 23 01 44 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reservations: Check the website for performance schedule different price categories and payment options. There are occasionally some very interesting offers depending on age and other criteria. Tickets may be purchased in person, by email or in writing.
Food and Beverage: Le Bar de l’Opéra Comique serves light fare when the theater is open. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés nearby.
Restrooms : Take the elevator to the reach accessible restrooms on the lower level of the lobby. Additional restrooms are conveniently located throughout the building.
Bus: Lines 20, 27 , 39 , 48 , 52 , 67, 74, 85 , 95
RER A: Auber station
Metro: Richelieu-Drouot station (lines 8 or 9) Quatre-Septembre (line 9)
Car: The parking garage Chauchat Drouot just off boulevard Haussmann is 5 Euros with a voucher from the Opéra Comique boutique.