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Subject: “Faust” at the Opéra, 1968
From: Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 9 Dec 2017 19:57:38 -0500

text/plain (76 lines)

Dear Listers,

Donald Kane and I had an online conversation earlier today regarding the production of 
“Faust” that we both attended at the Paris Opéra in 1968 when we were mere lads.  It does 
not appear that we were there on the same night, but we definitely saw the same 
production and cast, probably not more than a few days or couple of weeks apart.  Anyhow, 
I was telling Donald about an amusing incident that happened to me that night at the 
Opéra, and Donald said it was worth sharing with the rest of the List, so here goes.

(I won’t write about the production itself, because I did that two days ago.)

Anyhow, this is what happened to me at the Opéra at that performance.  I was at the 
“contrôle” of the Palais Garnier when an American man, fortyish, was denied admission to 
the Opéra because, shudder-shudder, although he had a valid ticket, he was *not* wearing 
a necktie and it was a Friday night (“soirée habillée” or dress-up night) !!!  Instead, he was 
wearing a suede jacket over a white shirt that was unbuttoned at the neck.  A loud 
argument ensued, he spoke little French, the Opéra staff spoke little English, and it got very 
nasty quite quickly.  (Those were the dying years of the De Gaulle presidency, and what 
with the Vietnam War and De Gaulle’s hissy-fits against the U.S., Americans were not really 
the flavor-of-the-month in Paris in those days.)

The American tried to explain that he had flown in earlier that day from the U.S., but 
because the airline had lost his luggage, he had only the clothes he was wearing on his 
back.  The Opéra staff were totally unmoved and retorted that he had had plenty of time to 
buy a necktie earlier that day.  A tall and very good-looking “garde républicain” in dress 
uniform stepped in and told the American that if he didn’t leave forthwith he would have to 
expel him “manu militari” from the premises.  So then *I* stepped in and started arguing in 
French with the Opéra staff about how this was no way to treat a tourist who was bringing 
in badly needed hard currency, it wasn’t his fault if the airline had lost his luggage, think of 
the bad press he would give France when he returned to the U.S., and weren’t they happy 
to have the Yanks back in 1944-1945 whether they were wearing neckties or not, etc. etc. 
etc.  So then the “garde républicain,” who was built like a brick s***house and cut a very 
imposing figure, addressed me and asked whether this man was a member of my family or 
a close friend of mine?  I said no, I’d never clapped eyes on him until a few minutes earlier.  
So then he barked that I should butt out of what didn’t concern me or he would give me a 
good hiding.  (Remember, this was 1968, they could speak to you that way back then.)  As 
a slightly built teenager, I was in no position to argue with this intimidating “militaire,” so I 
quickly apologized to the American, saying I had done what I could and slunk away quickly 
in disgrace.

Later that evening, at the intermission, I was strolling the length and breadth of the Grand 
Foyer de l’Opéra, people-watching, when I ran into the American again.  I smiled at him and 
said, “So they finally let you in, huh ?  How did you manage that?”  And he grinned and 
showed me his necktie, a garish and vulgar item with a big naked blonde on the front of it.  
I asked, “Where did you get *that* ?” and he said that after being expelled from the Opéra, 
he went across to the street to the now-defunct “Drugstore Opéra” and happened across a 
display of lurid novelty neckties, so he deliberately bought the loudest, most vulgar tie he 
could find and returned to the Opéra wearing it.  This time they let him in because he had 
zippered up his suede jacket so that only the top of the necktie was showing.  The people at 
the “contrôle” were fooled and let him in.  Once inside, he unzipped his jacket and strolled 
around the Opéra exhibiting his “outré” necktie.  We both had a good laugh over this.

Can you imagine such a thing happening today, when people can and do wear any old 
schmattas to the Opéra (or the Met for that matter) ?  And no more “gardes républicains” 
on Friday nights at the Opéra, either.  How times have changed !

Cheers and all the best,


Alain Letort
Washington, D.C.
Des Ungeheuers Höhle

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