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Road Show: Paulo Szot in Marseilles

The Brazilian-born baritone loves the French seaport city.
by Mario Mercado. 

Road Show Marseilles hdl 317
View of Fort Saint-Jean and the Musée des Civilisations de L’Europe et de la Méditerranée
© Moirenc Camille/Hemis/Agefotostock
Marseilles Picks


36 Boulevard Charles Livon

12 Quai du Port

56 Corniche Président
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Vallon des Auffes

Anse de Maldormé
Corniche Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy

10 Rue Saint-Saëns


Centre Bourse,
Square Belsunce,
2 Rue Henri Barbusse

7 Promenade Robert Laffont


Vieux Port
36 Boulevard Charles Livon

HÔtel Dieu
1 Place Daviel
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Road Show Szot Butterfly sm 317
As Sharpless in Madama Butterfly in Marseilles, 2016, with Teodor Ilincai (Pinkerton), Rodolphe Briand (Goro) and Cornelia Oncioiu (Suzuki)
© Christian Dresse
Road Show Intercontinental lg 317
Intercontinental Hôtel Dieu

BARITONE PAULO SZOT has a special affection for Marseilles. He made his European debut at Opéra de Marseille in 2004 in the title role of Eugene Onegin and has returned frequently in diverse repertoire—Purcell, Mozart, Puccini, Menotti. Szot, who has rented apartments in various neighborhoods in Marseilles over the years, has settled on a location mere minutes from the opera house, on Cours Jean Ballard. It is also steps from the Vieux Port, the city’s original harbor and, in many ways, its heart. Two seventeenth-century fortresses, Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicholas, flank the port’s entrance; a busy marina and ferries to Corsica and North Africa animate its strikingly clear waters. 

France’s second-largest city has a variety of hotels, owing to a redevelopment more than twenty years in the making. Szot recommends the Sofitel Marseille, with its panorama of the Vieux Port and its restaurant, Les Trois Forts. Located across the harbor, on a hill in Le Panier (or Old Quarter), the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu occupies a former eighteenth-century hospital. The majestic property encompasses the acclaimed Alcyone restaurant, a brasserie and a terrace, with a vista of the neo-Byzantine basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Opéra de Marseille, with its neoclassical façade and art deco interior, is among a handful of European opera houses with close proximity to the sea. “You need only step outside for a breath of sea air to be reminded of your whereabouts,” the baritone says. “For a European theater, it seems big [1,800 seats], but it is not deep, although the balconies and gallery are quite high. The audience feels close. And they are sophisticated, responsive to more than just singing.” 

For a tea or coffee break, Szot suggests Maison Zeppini, a wonderland of pastries, macarons and chocolates in front of the opera house. Szot likes to cook for himself—“simple meals, fish, vegetables, composed salads”—and appreciates the bounty of the fish market at the Quai des Belges. For entertaining friends and colleagues, he takes advantage of the city’s restaurants. 

In the place where bouillabaisse originated, fish and seafood predominate. At Miramar in the Vieux Port, the celebrated fish stew is at the center of the Mediterranean cooking of Christian Buffa, a disciple of legendary Lyonnaise chef Paul Bocuse. Away from the city center, along the winding Corniche Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is a series of Szot’s favorite restaurants. Péron offers a contemporary menu, including grilled sea bream with lemongrass black rice. Farther out, although only about a mile from the Vieux Port, one comes to a fishing village, Vallons des Auffes, and the waterfront restaurant L’Épuisette, known for tagine of European lobster, spices and vegetables. 

Down the coastal road is the villa Le Petit Nice, a small luxury hotel with a three-star Michelin restaurant, a terrace and a view of the Château d’If, the island fortress setting of the Count of Monte Cristo. Chef-owner Gérald Passedat’s signature dish is sea bass with zucchini, cucumber and Provençal black truffle; it is named for his grandmother Lucie Passedat, an opera singer. 

Passedat also oversees the cafés and restaurants at the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée. Opened in 2013, and encompassing a new building by Algerian architect Rudy Ricciotti, as well as the restored Fort Saint-Jean, the museum is devoted to the diverse cultures of the Mediterranean, whose complex history comes to life through artifacts, contemporary photography and graffiti. Szot also recommends the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, focused on the city’s history from Roman times to the present day. 

To get a sense of Marseilles’s layout, Szot encourages a walk up to Notre-Dame de la Garde. “When I have a break, I love wandering around the city and discovering new places. If I have more time, I walk beyond the Quai de Rive Neuve and towards the corniche, and to a remarkable, continuous concrete bench, almost two miles in length, with views of the Mediterranean,” he says. “It was built for one purpose—for people to sit and relax and admire the sea and nature.” 

Szot admits a weakness for French cheeses, especially Banon, made from goat’s milk, and an enthusiasm for calissons d’Aix (a confection of candied fruit and ground almonds) and Puyricard chocolates. He also favors navettes provençales—orange-blossom-scented cookies in the shape of a boat, a perfect souvenir. spacer 

Mario R. Mercado , author of The Evolution of Mozart’s PianisticStyle, writes on music, dance, theater and art. 

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