Requiem de Mozart in La Rochelle- Eglise Notre Dame de La Rochelle
We arrived half an hour early under threat of our discounted seats being given to someone else. This gave us time to really explore the space from our smallish chairs, bound together at intervals of four chairs by long pieces of timber. I could see many people before me had worn the rear stretcher of the chair in front by placing their feet up onto the back of the chair rail. It tried it myself. Not an improvement from my feet flat on the floor. A nice blonding effect had been achieved from all those shoes scuffing on the wood. They had found this comfortable enough, I didn’t.
Still plenty of time to look around before the performance. I looked up to see the heaters in the ceiling seem to be only half on. All the heaters were on, but only half the circle of gas burners was lit. The half on seemed to be pointing only over the nave, where the full price ticketed people were seated. The part over the aisle (Or is it the transept? – I was bought up Methodist, so elaborate Catholic architecture is not my forte) was black with no activity. I guess that’s why the seats were cheaper.
Looking further upward. Oh, the ceiling is missing some plaster. I could see the bared lathes and on further research, it seems Notre Dame in La Rochelle was not as affluent as Eglise St Saveur not far away.
Founded in 1077 on a small eminence overlooking salt marshes, it was originally a modest chapel serving the population of the hamlet of Cougnes, which existed before La Rochelle.
It was reported to be entirely lined in lead in the thirteenth century. It was almost completely destroyed at the time of the iconoclastic surges in 1568 and rebuilt from 1653. Later, when the revolutionary movement took an anti-religious turn, the church was transformed into a stable for the cavalry and the artillery.
Looking carefully, I could see the whole place was originally done in plaster and painted to look like stone. Clever cost cutting, as it was financed by the parishioners after it was returned to the Catholics in 1802. Even the 12 stations of the Cross lacked the swathes of gold leaf paint seen at the Sailors Church ( Eglise St Saveur). Here they were smaller and mostly brown and dismal.
At last, the performance began. I loved watching the conductor- he was so fluid, full of facial expression and was such a smooth joyful mover. The introductory string movement was conducted bare handed. He seemed to be caressing the strings himself. He was so gentle. I knew he was from The Orchestre Philharmonique de T’cheque (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) but as we didn’t buy a program, sadly I can’t tell you who he was. The introduction was beautiful and the acoustics were brilliant.
The choir and soloists of the Prague State Opera performed the main part of the program. I thought the tenor and the soprano were the most pleasing to listen to. The acoustics of the old church allowed the choir to be deafening at times with their magnificent combined voices. I’d be surprised if the full price people seated in the nave weren’t regretting such a fine position.
After an impressive performance, we were more than happy to escape the hard chairs. We (and quite a few others) only got to the back steps when an encore ensued. It was a lovely parting sound to take with us into the La Rochelle night. A fine performance. ( Shelley Beer March 2019)