The Queen’s Theatre or Petit Théâtre de la Reine is a small theatre that seats 250 people as its audience during performances. However, the main reason why the Queen’s Theatre is unique, just as the name suggests, is that it was commissioned by then France’s current queen, Marie Antoinette in 1780. She was the queen consort of Louis XVI of France when they married in 1770. She was famously executed during the height of the French Revolution. The theatre, located near the Petit Trianon in Versaille, was created to be the queen’s personal theatre where the performances were only intended for the pleasure of Marie Antoinette, her family, and closest friends. A private theatre was a tradition for many French aristocrats’ country estates at the time since plays and operas were the primary sources of entertainment during the period.
The Theatre’s Creation
As the story goes, Queen Marie Antoinette was a great admirer and enthusiast of the arts. She was said to have grown tired of watching performances where the stages had to built and reconstructed every time in the galleries of the Grand Trianon or the Petit Trianon. She commissioned Richard Mique to construct her a theater. It was completed during the spring of 1780 and inaugurated in the first of June that year.
The classically-styled theater is surrounded by the natural foliage of the gardens and could be accessed through a portico. The interior of the theatre was painted to resemble marble and richly decorated in white, blue and gold. The craftsmen of Menus Plaisirs, acknowledged experts of their craft, were tasked to create the decorative sculptures in the theatre. They were made quickly and cheaply through the paper mâché method. The ceiling of the theatre was painted to depict Apollo surrounded by the Graces and Muses by French painter Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée. During the Queen’s Theatre’s inception, Marie Antoinette originally meant for it to play two roles. The first was to be able to provide a stage, with adequate technical facilities, for the commissioned works of students from the Royal Academy of Music. The second purpose of the theatre was to be the venue of amateur plays and comedies put up by the queen herself and her friends.
Restoration and Current Use
Surely enough, the theatre fulfilled both from 1780 to 1785 and was the venue of commissioned new works that reflected Marie Antoinette’s taste for music. Some of the featured artists were Gluck, Grétry, Sacchini, and Paisiello. When the queen fell out of favor during the revolutionary period, the theatre still managed to survive with little damage. It was used occasionally during the late nineteenth and the early 20th century. To preserve it from the ravages of time it was restored twice – the first time between 1925 to 1936 and the second time in 2001. The Queen’s Theatre is the only theatre in France from the 18th century that is still preserved in its authenticity and fully-functioning as the original machinery is still working. Several props, sets, and backdrops from the period were also preserved.