The Puy du Fou historical theme park in western France was given an exemption by local authorities to allow the show with up to 9,000 spectators, even though the number of people permitted to gather in France is limited to 5,000 due to social distancing rules.
The controversy is even more acute given that the park's founder Philippe de Villiers, a former culture minister and ex-MP, is according to French media on friendly terms with President Emmanuel Macron.
Participants in France's cultural scene, ravaged by the coronavirus and ensuing restrictions, have expressed outrage that the weekend event was allowed to go ahead when major summer festivals were cancelled.
Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, however, denied that the Puy du Fou, which attracts millions each year with its mediaeval and history-themed attractions, had received special treatment.
Local authorities have the power to grant exceptional permission for gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
“I understand the emotion and the anger of the professionals and the artists who had to cancel their activities and it is a real heartbreak,” said Bachelot, quoted by Le Parisien website late Sunday.
But, “the park of Puy du Fou did not benefit from any special privilege,” she insisted.
Prime Minister Jean Castex last week extended a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people until October 30th.
The measure has already cost France some of its top summer cultural festivals including Avignon theatre festival and the Vieilles Charrues music event.
On Friday, the local authorities in the Vendée region of western France issued a decree allowing the Puy du Fou to welcome up to 9,000 people for its Cinescenie theatrical show on Saturday.
The Cinescenie is the park's summer showpiece, a spectacular historical show with fireworks and hundreds of actors and horses.
“These are double standards! In these times of major crisis for events, concerts, sports and nightclubs it is even more unbearable to witness!!”, tweeted prominent French show business promoter Pascal Negre, a former president of Universal Music France and former vice-president of Universal Music International.
Deux poids deux mesures !! En ces temps de crise majeure pour l’événementiel ,les concerts, les réunions sportives et les discothèques cela est encore plus insupportable à vivre !! @R_Bachelot https://t.co/nzEPFMujF0
— PascalNegre (@PascalNegre) August 15, 2020
“It's incomprehensible”, Jean-Michel Ribes, director of the Parisian Rond Point theatre, told Europe 1 radio.
“I think that there will be a real question for the government and it will need to answer it and explain,” he added.
Bachelot said that in the coming days she would receive representatives of the cultural sectors most impacted by the virus and resultant lockdown.
“We have a feeling of being abandoned,” said Aurelie Hannedouche, of the SMA union of modern music.
“Irritated, alone, fed up, that's what we feel: we are the only sector that has not got back to business,” she added.
The Puy du Fou, France's second-most popular theme park after Disneyland, welcomed over 2.3 million visitors in 2019. It reopened its doors on June 11th following the coronavirus lockdown.