Olympia Concert Hall
For French entertainers, the milestone that marks the true attainment of success is an engagement at the Olympia, probably the most prestigious and best-known concert hall in France. The singer, dancer, or comedian appearing in this hall knows that he has truly “arrived”—I daresay that a concert here is at least as moving for the person on stage as it is for his or her audience.
The hall is small, seating only 2000 people, but many entertainers prefer the intimacy of a smaller venue, and in any case, just the prestige of performing in the same hall as so many other great and famous names in the French entertainment world cannot fail to have an impact on even the most jaded performer. It‘s rather like the French version of a Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden.
This photo shows the exterior of the Olympia, a relatively modest facade that gives no indication of the very luxurious and high-tech entertainment hall that is concealed within the building. On the day I photographed this, a concert featuring Johnny Hallyday, a very famous name in French popular music, was being advertised on the marquee.
Bruno Coquatrix started the concert hall in what had previously been a cinema under the same name in 1954. He built it up from nothing to a hall with worldwide recognition. It has always been mostly a showplace for French talent, but the most famous foreign entertainers have also been engaged here at one time or another, such as the Beatles, or Liza Minelli, or Céline Dion (the list is very long—these are just random examples).
For nearly a quarter-century after Bruno’s death in 1979, the Olympia was family-operated by his wife and his daughter. However, in 2001, the entire property, right down to the walls, was sold for an undisclosed sum to Vivendi Universal, the world’s third-largest entertainment multinational (after Disney and AOL Time Warner). It remains to be seen what long-term effect this change of hands will have on the venue.
Click directly on the photo to see a smaller version (half this size). Photographed on July 31, 2000.