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Sing Time in Paris

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Peter Brook's stunning new chamber version of The Magic Flute in Paris (au revoir to the panto side of things in this literally fabulous piece) has more producing partners than a Broadway musical based on a best-selling book or movie.

Which only goes to show how expensive poor theatre can be.

Saturday night's premiere in the wonderfully atmospheric Bouffes du Nord was crammed to the gills with a highly appreciative audience -- there was five minutes of sustained clapping and stomping at the end -- as well as Parisian bigwigs like former culture minister Jack Lang, former prime minister and nearly-president Lionel Jospin, and the former director of MC93 Bobigny, Ariel Goldenberg.

Brook, too, now aged 85, is a nearly former director of the Bouffes, though he has not confirmed any slowing down in his productivity as he relinquishes the Bouffes' artistic reins with his administrator and sister-in-law Nina Soufy.

He has run the most generously subsidised smaller theatre in Paris since 1974, to general acclaim, and there is no sign that his following is diminished; most of the performances of The Magic Flute, tickets priced at 35, 28 or 20 Euros, are sold out to the end of December.

Then the co-producers start getting their slice of the action, with performances scheduled next year in Athens, Bremen, Grenoble, Luxembourg, Milan and the Lincoln Center in New York.

The Magic Flute -- or, more strictly speaking, A Magic Flute (Une flute enchantee -- it's spoken in French and sung in German) comes to the Barbican, with sur-titles, at the end of March.

Programme director Louise Jeffries and new Barbican head of theatre, Toni ("I owe everything to Thelma Holt") Racklin, were on hand to check it out on Saturday night, together with head of Press, Angela Dias (plus French boyfriend -- my sworn rival -- Sebastian, the high-flying engineer).

As they all melted into the opening night reception and I headed off for steak and oysters at the nearest brasserie, I could hardly bring myself to state the bleeding obvious: this show is too small and too intimate for the gapingly big Barbican stage and auditorium. It might just about do better than Brook's last foray there with 11 and 12.

But the Barbican mob should really be occupying a space like Wilton's, with its Bouffes-like brick and boho atmos, or the Young Vic, with its glorious informality, with a show like this. The single baby grand at the Bouffes might have to become a full-blown concert grand; please, girls, whatever you do, don't amplify the singers' voices. The pure unadulterated sound of this sublime music, uncluttered with orchestral swamp, is one of the evening's main joys.

There's never no reason to go to Paris, but seeing this Flute at the Bouffes is definitely one. Another might be Alex Jennings as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady at the Chatelet, in an English production for Christmas directed by Robert Carsen and also featuring Margaret Tyzack, Nicholas Le Prevost and Jenny Galloway.

Another big attraction, running through the New Year, is the season curated at the Louvre by Patrice Chereau, en route to direct at the Young Vic next year: plays by Jon Fosse (with Bulle Ogier) and Bernard-Marie Koltes, as well as concerts with Daniel Barenboim and a performance (with Chereau as the narrator) of The Soldier's Tale.

There is a world elsewhere, I know, but I'll settle for gay Paree any time, even if the Metro, especially late at night, has become even more disgusting than our own tube network. And the dog mess on the streets is incroyable.


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