Home News Curtain rises again on Versailles opera

Curtain rises again on Versailles opera

Published on 22/09/2009

Versailles — One of Europe’s finest royal theatres, the Versailles Chateau Opera House, reopens Monday after a two-year revamp with its busiest schedule in almost 250 years.

Unlike other historic European theatres — Drottningholm in Sweden, Schwetzingen or Margrave’s in Bayreuth, Germany — the 660-seat Versailles Opera has seen very little action since opening in 1770 for the wedding of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Between then and the French Revolution of 1789, which saw the death by guillotine of the royal couple and the looting of the theatre, less than 20 performances were held in the opera house, due to high costs.

A thousand candles, each costing a worker’s weekly wage, had to be lit three or four times an evening to light up the stage.

But in a revolution of sorts for the theatre some 30 performances have been scheduled for the 2009-2010 season alone.

Originally built in a classical Roman style, the 18th-century building with its painted dome and ornate decor was a technological revolution at the time.

Built in wood and stone, it had excellent acoustics, was set against a water reservoir to guard against fire, had five mechanically-driven backdrops under the stage — and last but not least could be turned into an instant ballroom.

It fell into ruin after the Revolution before being used to house the Senate, which tore off the roof to replace it with a glass dome that leaked and weakened the structure.

It was finally restored and refurbished in the 1950s, barring the stage machinery. But it was only used once or twice a year until the latest two-year 12.5-million-euro campaign to refurbish the building, upgrade safety installations and repair the original machinery.

"This is part of our heritage," Frederic Didier, the architect in charge of France’s historical monuments, told AFP.

Visitors will be able to tour the underbelly of the theatre, he said.

Music from the 17th and 18th centuries will be featured throughout the season as well as candle-lit performances of plays by Moliere and operas by Mozart.