Opéra-Comique Paris



The théâtre national de l’Opéra-Comique (National Opéra Comic Theatre) is an opera company and opera house in Paris. It is located in the place Boïeldieu, in the 2e arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Opera Garnier, home of the Paris National Opera.


The Opéra-Comique company was established in 1714 by the St Germain troupe which performed in the fairs in Paris to offer French musical plays as an alternative to Italian opera that then dominated the continent. By an agreement with the Opéra productions at the Opéra-Comique were distinguished from those at the Académie Royale de Musique by having plays interspersed with music and dance; the audience was likewise more mixed than at the Opéra. The initial repertoire consisted of pantomimes and operatic parodies – the main requirement of the company was that scenes with spoken dialogue should intersperse the musical items. The first work with the designation opéra-comique was Télémaque by Lesage.[1]

To 1807

In the first half of the 18th century performances were seasonal, according to when fairs were open. In the early days the role of librettist for the theatre was more important than that of composer - and pre-eminent among them was Charles-Simon Favart, who wrote both operatic parodies and original plays. 1753 saw the first genuine opéra-comique (usually known previously as «comédies mêlée d’ariettes») Les Troqueurs by Dauvergne. In 1762 the Opéra-Comique merged with the Comédie Italienne and occupied the Hôtel de Bourgogne, gaining in respectability what it lost in independence. The Opéra-Comique moved into the Salle Favart (architect Jean-François Heurtier; around 1,100 seats) on the site where the current theatre stands, in 1783, and the works Grétry featured strongly.

With the proliferation of opera houses after the Law of 1791 which removed restrictions on the opening of theatres, there was competition with the Théâtre Feydeau, which was resolved in 1801 by merger. By 1807 Napoleon had reduced theatrical freedoms, and the Opéra-Comique was named one of four primary theatres in Paris.

The 19th century

French opéra comique, in the 19th century at least, was not necessarily comic; the term covered a much wider category of work. Notable composers in the history of the Opéra-Comique include Auber, Halévy, Berlioz and Bizet.

In 1840 the Opéra-Comique company settled in the second Salle Favart (architect Louis Charpentier; 1,500 seats), built on the site of the first theatre, destroyed by fire in 1838. The new house was inaugurated with Le Pré aux clercs by Hérold. During the 1850s and 1860s the Théâtre Lyrique offered competition in the type of repertoire staged, being particularly strong in its policy of new commissions.

Performances took place on most evenings of the week except for major festivals. Boxes could be hired for a year at a time, and many subscribers were wealthy. Before 1848 a third of subscribers were of the aristocracy, but after then it became an especially middle class theatre. After 1848 Perrin sought to revive the repertoire with more literary and ambitious works. Until 1864 its repertoire was still prescribed, by statute, to have spoken dialogue between musical numbers.

The Opéra-Comique staged the first performances of such important French works as Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust on 6 December 1846, Bizet's Carmen on 3 March 1875, and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande on 30 April 1902. In the latter part of the century the theatre revived works it had made its own, restaged works from the repertoire of the Théâtre Lyrique (which had closed in 1872) and added new pieces, including many successes for Jules Massenet.

A fire at the Salle Favart on 25 May 1887 resulted in the death of 84 people by asphyxiation. The building was destroyed and the director Carvalho was forced to resign, although later he was acquitted of blame and resumed the helm at the company from 1891 to 1897. The third Salle Favart was officially opened in the presence of President Félix Faure on 7 December 1898.

The 20th century

As the differences between opéra and opéra comique faded, the two main houses in Paris came more into competition, although the Salle Favart saw the premieres of more innvoative works: Louise, Pelléas et Mélisande, Ariane et Barbe-bleue, L'heure espagnole and French premieres of works by Puccini and Falla.

Between 1900 and 1950, 401 works by 206 different composers were performed at the Opéra-Comique, of which 222 were either world premieres (136) or the first performance in Paris (86).[4] In 1932 financial problems resulted in the Opéra-Comique being merged with the Opéra to become the 'Réunion des Théatres Lyriques Nationaux'. In 1972 the Opéra-Comique company was closed (although the theatre itself received visiting productions) and its grant added to that of the Opéra.

The company regained its autonomy and returned to the Salle Favart in 1990 and currently mounts 7 or 8 operas, with complementary concerts and recitals, each season.

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Composers' compositions