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Wine, Wooing and Song: Bel Canto

You can still enjoy opera in Paris without ever setting foot in the L’Opera de Paris.
Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007

Bel Canto
72 quai de l’Hotel de Ville 75004
Metro: Pont Marie
Tel. 01 42 78 30 18

other locations:
6 rue du Commandant Pilot
92200 Neuilly
Metro: Sablons

88 rue de la Tombe Issoire 75014
Metro: Alesia

Opera lovers arriving in Paris may be disappointed when they discover that tickets for some of their favorite operas have been booked long in advance. If you’re staying at a hotel with a concierge, be sure to ask the concierge to work on securing tickets for you. A good concierge can sometimes perform miracles, but if, like us, you’re not staying at a hotel, and you’d like to spend an evening listening to opera, here is an excellent alternative:

Bel Canto
Bel Canto deserves kudos for having the brilliant idea of hiring over eighty conservatory-trained opera singers as members of their wait staff. You can literally eat your Opera cake and listen to opera singers at the same time. At 72 Euros per person, the diner/spectacle is not inexpensive, yet compared to similar dinner shows, the price is within the normal range (Bobino, Moulin Rouge or Crazy Horse cost more!).

The fixed 72 Euros menu includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. Wine, coffee, and before dinner drinks aren’t included in the fixed rate menu. However, the opportunity to listen to some extraordinary voices in such an intimate setting more than justifies the high price. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ seats in the ‘house’ or the restaurant, because each opera singer also works as a wait person at our tables. The singers hail from all corners of the world including (on this night) Columbia and South Korea and a pianist from St. Petersburg. If ever there were a passion that could unify the world – it would be the splendor of the human voice.

No need for any artificial amplification here. The strains of such familiar operas such as La Boheme, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte envelop the entire restaurant. Rather than dressing in costumes for their various roles, each singer dresses in black. You’ll find the costumes from various operas artistically displayed on the walls where they’re interspersed with opera posters.

As for the food, there were no complaints from our French guests. However, i’d be quick to say that if you are primarily in Paris to please the palate rather than all the senses, this wouldn’t be my first choice for a gourmet meal. You can easily find more ingenuously prepared meals at a much more reasonable price – but you will have missed out on an exceptional evening. Because one doesn’t necessarily eat with one’s tastebuds alone, a beautifully articulated aria might have the same effect as a perfectly constructed sauce. Any criticisms I may have had about my carre d’agneau seemed less important as soon as the pianist struck up a chord.

We were also pleasantly surprised to see that Bel Canto is not by any means a tourist trap. Its interior is tastefully decorated in warm shades of orange – with tables set apart at a discreet distance. Both the singing and non-singing waiters and waitresses are professional in their table service.

No surprise that cigarette smoking is not allowed in this restaurant. The management also requests guests to turn off their cell phones.

We were impressed not only by the professionalism of the restaurant staff, but also by the attentiveness of the guests. Happily, there were no loud voices or conversations that so often drown out live entertainment in restaurants (where live entertainment is considered more like background music). Dinner guests at Bel Canto, immediately ceased conversation in favor of savoring the pleasure of listening and watching these talented performers.

There may have been even a few tears shed – but I wouldn’t know. My eyes were too bleary to notice.
Bel Canto also has a tradition of pouring a glass of sparkling Italian wine toward the end of the evening. Opera singers pass from table to table to toast each guest.

You may begin to feel like you have momentarily joined them on the stage to become a participant in one of your favorite operas. Or, like one guest, who admitted he never cared much for opera until he listened to Luciano Pavoratti,you may discover that listening to opera in such an intimate setting will make you want to come back for a second morsel.

Bel Canto is first and foremost about opera, but it can also be the ideal spot to spend a memorable moment with someone whom you hold near and dear to your heart. (Definitely the ideal spot to pop the question!) You can enjoy the Bel Canto experience at two different venues – either at 72, Quai de Hotel de Ville 4eme. Metro: Pont Marie – or
6 Rue du Commandant Pilot in Neuilly sur Seine.
Tel. 01 42 78 30 18 (Quai Hotel de Ville)
01 47 47 19 94 (Neuilly sur Seine)
The Quai de Hotel de Ville location is open every day until 10:30 pm.
The Neuilly location is Tuesday through Saturday.

P.S. Bel Canto has a third location in the 14th arrondissement (which is not listed in its advertisements in Pariscope). The third location is Rue de la Tombe Issoire.