A Bloody Evening and Offenbach

By: Frank Cadenhead.  The shooting in Strasbourg on Tuesday, December 11, received international attention. Three dead and thirteen wounded. What is seldom heard are stories of how individuals were peripherally affected by the attack. Thomas Quinquenel, a bassoonist with the Orchestre symphonique de Mulhouse, was inside the opera house in Strasbourg and told his story (which appeared on the website, www.lalettredumusicien.fr). He was in the pit for the second of nine performance of Offenbach’s comic opera, Barkouf ou un chien au pouvoir. This was the Opera national de Rhin’s celebration of the bicentenary of Offenbach and part of the season which presents operas in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar.

“The opera started normally and it was not until the intermission that it was announced that everyone had to stay indoors: there had been an attack 300 meters away. The atmosphere was tense. We did not know the number of victims yet, we were all on our phones. We could not go in or out, so the harpist, who only played in the third act, could not enter. She waited outside, 50 meters from the building, at the security checkpoint. We waited forty minutes in uncertainty, but then it was decided that we would continue the show. I confess that the atmosphere was strange: there was a gap between the subject of the operetta, funny and adolescent, and the news of the evening.

Then we heard that the killer was on the run, but it was, I think, a good idea to remember that we were all stuck inside – so continue and listen to the music. The show ended normally. At that time, no one was aware of the scale of the attack. There was a new announcement: we could go out, but in small groups. We, the musicians, finally took the bus back to Mulhouse. We would normally give another performance the next day, in Mulhouse. But given the day of mourning announced by the Mayor of Strasbourg, all concerts and events of the day are canceled. We will see.”

Eva Kleinitz, the opera’s director, was quoted by the newspaper Le Figaro as noting that “There were 800 in the audience and 120 in the orchestra and chorus. It was impressive to deal with such a crowd but the people stayed relatively calm. The question of stopping the performance was not considered. Our first goal was to protect the security of the public.”  “The musicians stayed perfectly concentrated,” she observed.

The company cancelled events the next day but the opera’s date tonight, December 13, was assured. The city’s music conservatory, not far from the opera house, was temporarily turned into a support space for family and friends of the victims and others affected by the attack.

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