Incident at the Paris Opera provoked a written response from the French Minister of Culture to prevent a recurrence
It was a première for all the wrong reasons. In the middle of a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata, management at the Paris Opera House asked a female member of the audience to leave the premises. The incident happened back on the 3rd of October last and occurred just after the show had begun when security cameras and members of the chorus picked up the sight of a veiled woman sitting in the front row. So said vice-director of the Opéra de Paris Jean-Philippe Thiellay to AFP.
Sitting just behind the conductor, the spectator – whose neck and hair were covered – could see through a transparent veil that also covered her mouth and nose.
“I was alerted during the 2nd act,” says Mr Thiellay, noting that the law of 2011 in France forbids people masking their face in a public space. “I don’t like the idea of asking a spectator to leave but it’s the law. Furthermore, we work in the public sector.” The law in question that was voted into being at the end of 2010 stipulates that “no person can, within the public space, wear apparel designed to conceal his/her face” under the threat of a €150 fine or a citizen’s service stint.
The show did go on while the veiled lady was being escorted from her seat but it was close to being interrupted:
“Some of the singers indicated that they didn’t want to sing,” if a solution was not found, continued Mr Thiellay. In order to avoid the situation worsening, a member of security personnel made use of a pause in the music to warn the couple in question. After reminding them of the French legal situation, the employee requested of the husband that either his wife uncover her face or that she would have to leave the auditorium. The two tourists left without any protest and without seeking a refund on their ticket. Front row seats cost up to €231, according to the Opéra de Paris website.
Reports of the incident made their way to the office of the Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin. She decided to issue a written communique reminding those concerned of the protocol to be followed in theatres, museums and other public establishments under her auspices.
“We have deemed it useful to issue the state position on the law to all relevant public establishments under the administration of the Ministry,” said Ms Pellerin’s office in a statement, “in order to encourage respect for the law, harmonise reactions and prevent any difficulties arising.” As regards the Paris Opera, they were advised to be more vigilant at the main entrance.