A Swiss Filmmaker Talks Travel and Good Luck Charms
The Paris Opera director Jean-Stéphane Bron talks about his latest documentary and his travel obsessions.
If anything will give you hope that global cooperation and a mutual respect that knows no national boundaries exists, it’s the glorious new documentary The Paris Opera.
Founded in 1669, the Paris Opera is the combination opera house and ballet at the center of Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron’s compelling doc. Bron’s roving camera opens with the arrival in 2014 of the Paris Opera’s new director, Stephane Lissner, but ultimately takes a fly-on-the-wall vantage as it surveys the many dimensions to this unique, self-contained world. Winding its way through every hallway, rehearsal studio and dressing room of the Paris Opera, Bron focuses on not just the star dancers and choreographers (including director of dance Benjamin Millepied, Natalie Portman’s husband who had a tempestuous and short run at the ballet), but the women and men working in the laundry, sweeping up the stage after each performance and even the massive bull, Easy Rider, who has a starring role in the Paris Opera’s production of Arnold Schonberg’s unfinished opera “Moses and Aaron.”
From newly arrived singer Mikhail Timoshenko, who hails from an obscure Russian town to opera stars like Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel Jones, The Paris Opera shows each member of the company working toward a higher purpose: the creation of art.
Travel Channel spoke with the globe-trotting documentarian during a touch-down in New York City where we asked him what defines the Swiss character and what he can’t leave home without, among many other topics. Bron has also recently traveled to France, Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Sweden and Russia in support of The Paris Opera.
Do you have time to really experience the cities you are traveling to to promote The Paris Opera?
Not really! I try to do short trips, because you have to be focused on your next project and can spend too much time traveling around the world.
You’re in New York now, which you’ve said you really love, premiering The Paris Opera. What are some favorite things you like to do there?
I go to museums, the new Whitney Museum, art galleries. I went to see the exhibition of Louise Bourgeois [at the Museum of Modern Art] and also I wanted to see the work of Lauren Greenfield, an exhibition she has now at the International Center of Photography. I love her work. She’s fantastic. You have to see her book: Generation Wealth.
What’s your favorite city in the world and why?
If I had to say one city, I have an adopted brother who’s Vietnamese. He came when he was a child, so we grew up together. From the second I saw him, he was my brother. After 20 years he got a passport and it was safe to go to Vietnam. So we did this trip with my sister, we went to see his village. All my childhood I imagined this place, so it was a place that was always in my mind. So when I went there it was just amazing; it was not just a trip but a very profound experience.
And because you grew up in Switzerland can you tell me what makes you distinctly Swiss?
We are a multilingual country; you have to speak Italian, you have to speak German, French, it builds your personality in being able to share something with another country.
And we don’t have access to the sea, so I think we have this kind of melancholy because of that. So we climb.
What’s the thing that is most Swiss and worth experiencing if you are traveling to Switzerland?
You have to hike for a day or two.
Is there a city you haven’t yet traveled to but is on your list?
What’s the last souvenir that you bought?
Two weeks ago I bought a shirt “I love New York” for my daughter. And I’m asked to bring back a mug with “I love New York.”
What did the Russian opera singer, Mikhail Timoshenko, who is new to the Paris Opera and speaks German and is learning French, represent for you in the film?
Because I knew nothing about opera before I started, I think it’s a good thing just to start with a desire to understand things, to know more, to be curious…I said, I need to have a character I can really identify with. I thought it was easy to start with him and discover a new world. I thought it was good for the audience to be put in that position.
Where are you going to take your next vacation?
Vacation [laughs]? I don’t know: my partner is a director and she is preparing a movie that will be shot in four different countries, so I don’t think we have a lot of time. But she told me this morning, “could we just have one day at the sea?” I can’t tell you where!
What are you working on next?
It’s [a film] about the brain and neuroscience and artificial intelligence. It will be shot in different countries including the United States.
What’s your favorite way to travel?
Train. Here they were very surprised when they ask ‘can we send you a car?’ and I say ‘no, I’m going to take the train.’ The train here in New York is great. I can’t read in the car, I get sick.
Do you have any objects you always travel with, or something you have to have in your hotel room to make you feel at home?
I have plenty! I have a lot of different objects for good fortune; three or four little cards with sayings, a little Greek ex-voto, a dice with 13 on it; things to keep me alive!
The Paris Opera opens November 11 in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Santa Fe before opening in cities across the country.