SHARE
COPY LINK

ENTERTAINMENT

How balcony stars all over France spread joy during coronavirus lockdown

In cities all over France, musicians treat their neighbours to nightly balcony performances, to bring moments of comfort and solidarity to those isolated during the coronavirus lockdown.

How balcony stars all over France spread joy during coronavirus lockdown
French opera tenor singer Stephane Senechal performs the song O sole mio from his window in Paris. Photo: AFP

Every evening at 7pm, tenor Stephane Senechal throws open the window of his apartment in Paris's 9th arrondissement and lets fly with an aria.

“When I see the smile that I bring each evening with my song, that gives me great pleasure,” he told AFP.

“All day long, we are told of tragic things, of the dead. When I see smiles, I see hope. It's a little moment of freedom, of escape,” he said.

Senechal said he lives in a neighbourhood where “there are a lot of elderly people” and that it was an 80-year-old neighbour's moment of reflection at the beginning of the lockdown that pushed him to sing at his window.

Stephane Senechal's “moment of escape” from all the tragedies the coronavirus brings is joy to his neighbours. Photo: AFP

Celebrate life

“She told me 'we will feel even more isolated'. I was rehearsing the role of Don Jose in “Carmen” at the time and after this remark I decided to sing at the window,” he said.

Senechal starts by singing the “Marseillaise”. Then he links each nightly recital with arias as varied as “I gave you my heart” from Franz Lehar's operetta “The Land of Smiles”, the 1935 Mexican song “Piensa en mi” – sung by Luz Casal in Pedro Almodovar's High Heels – as well as the song “Caruso”, Edith Piaf's “The Hymn to Love” and an “Ave Maria” dedicated “to all the suffering”.

Senechal also likes to let go with “E Lucevan le stelle” from Puccini's opera Tosca. He considers this especially apt because of its last sentence: “'E non ho amato mai tanto la vita! (I have never loved life so much)' We understand the importance of life. And we can't give up now,” he says.

His balcony recitals appear to have drifted far across the rooftops of the 9th. “A patient with COVID-19 and hospitalised in Bichat (a hospital in the north of Paris) saw one of my videos and said 'keep going'. For me, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Since the start of self-isolation in France, as in Italy and Spain, initiatives like this have flourished. Montreuil, in the eastern suburbs of the capital, has been particularly active, regularly sharing videos of a violinist, a guitarist or a singer on their balconies.

The “BachDesBalcons” online initiative, launched by Classical Revolution France, a movement imported from the United States, encourages musicians to play Bach at their windows.

READ ALSO: How to have a virtual night out in France during lockdown 

 

Symphonic Orchestra violinist Jessy Koch performs on her balcony every day day to support health workers in Mulhouse, one of the towns that the coronavirus struck earliest and hardest. Photo: AFP

Across the nation

“There are dozens of us playing every week from Montpellier to Paris, via Nantes, Strasbourg or Lille,” Sarah Niblack, director of Classical Revolution France, told AFP. “Bach is the greatest of companions, you are never alone with your music.”

An American who has lived in France for several years, Niblack has been based in Prades, in the south-west, since the beginning of confinement, and says she is happy to bring “comfort and a little moment when people come together” in these times of isolation.

“People recognise me now, even when I do my shopping with mask and gloves, I am told in the street 'you are the girl who plays Bach',” said Niblack, a violinist who has played in several national orchestras.

Like many freelance workers she has suffered professionally from the lockdown, having seen six contracts cancelled since the outbreak, but she remains upbeat about the power of music.

“We are not useful in a hospital but we can make a little difference in people's lives. They appreciate that we are thinking of them.”

READ ALSO: Apéro Skype – France's evening lockdown drinks ritual

French cellist Camilo Peralta playing on his balcony in Paris. Photo: AFP

Also in Paris, from his balcony overlooking Boulevard Saint-Michel, in the heart of the bohemian Latin quarter, Camilo Peralta, a cellist with the Ile-de-France National Orchestra, plays Bach suites at noon, much to the pleasure of neighbours and the occasional passer-by.

“We are inevitably caught up in the situation because every time I play, an ambulance drives by,” he said.

In Mulhouse, in the east of the country, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic, the violinist Jessy Koch plays every day at 6.30pm on her balcony.

“It is not easy to work alone, without a purpose in mind. And now, I started to have a little audience waiting for the little concert. Life goes on,” she said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LIVING IN FRANCE

Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

This weekend represents the first chance to 'faire le pont' and have a long holiday weekend - and the French seem set to make the most of it with warnings of extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday.

Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

Thursday, May 26th marks the Christian festival of Ascension and is a public holiday in France.

More importantly, it’s the first time this year that French workers have had the opportunity to faire le pont (do the bridge) and create a long weekend.

In France, most public holidays fall on different days each year and if they happen to fall on the weekend then there are no extra days off work.

This year that happened on New Year’s Day (a Saturday) and both of the early May public holidays (the workers’ holiday on May 1st and VE Day on May 8th, which both fell on a Sunday).

READ ALSO Why 2022 is a bad year for public holidays

But as Ascension is on a Thursday, workers have the option to take a day of annual leave on Friday and therefore create a nice four-day weekend.

And it appears that many are planning on doing just that, as the traffic forecaster Bison futé is predicting extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday evening, as people prepare to make their after-work getaway and head to the coast, the countryside or the mountains to fully profit from their holiday weekend.

According to Bison futé maps, the whole country is coloured red – very heavy traffic – on both Wednesday and Thursday as people take to the roads to leave the cities.

Map: Bison futé

Meanwhile Sunday is coloured black – the highest level, meaning extremely heavy traffic and difficult driving conditions – across the whole country. 

Map: Bison futé

If you were hoping to take the train instead you might be out of luck, SNCF reports that most TGV services are sold out for over the holiday weekend. 

SHOW COMMENTS