The design of a performance venue, whether it be an opera house, theatre or cinema, is traditionally an opportunity for the architects to make a significant impact on both the local area and the world. Sydney is now famous world-over for the striking design of its Opera House, and you wouldn’t think twice of visiting New York City without calling in at the illustrious Carnegie Hall. These places matter, as they are where great art is performed and where people flock to be entertained, inspired and, perhaps most importantly, seen.
France has a long and rich history of theatre, opera, ballet and other types of performance. This country has given birth to some of the most important playwrights, composers and performers of all time, people like Antonin Artaud, Voltaire and Jean-Paul Sartre. Accordingly, it also plays host to some of the most impressive performance venues on the planet, where people can watch the greats performed in appropriate surroundings. Here we’ve listed some of the most eye-catching and important venues found in France.
Comédie-Française, Salle Richelieu
The Comédie-Française has been housed in the Palais Royal since the late 17th century, and its active status all these years makes it the oldest active theatre company in the world. It is sometimes referred to as La Maison de Moliére due to its close ties to the company of that brilliant playwright, who sadly died before the Salle Richelieu (now the company’s principal theatre) itself was built.
Nowadays, the Comédie-Française is state-controlled giving it security and prominence in a capital city filled with influential performance venues and theatre troupes. The iconic building of the Salle Richelieu sits on the corner of rue de Richelieu in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Inside is opulence and grandeur, despite the relatively small size of the space, with chandeliers, gilded plaster and plush red velvet adding to the atmosphere.
Philharmonie de Paris
Across town in the 19th Arrondissement is the Philharmonie de Paris, a multi-functional music venue that combines concert halls with spaces for rehearsal, teaching and exhibitions along with restaurants and bars. Inside the building is filled with wonders, like the flowing, organic form of Philharmonie 1, which mimics shapes found in nature such as the rolling hills of nearby parks. There is also the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez, the venue’s largest concert hall, which has a truly unique layout for the audience’s seats.
The architects wanted to create a feeling of real intimacy between performer and watcher, hence the ‘floating balconies’ and distribution of seats behind the stage. Watching a performance here can be a profound experience, with a breathtaking feeling of closeness and impeccable acoustics.
Casino de Monte-Carlo
Although Monte Carlo is part of the principality of Monaco, its close ties with France and French culture warrant a mention in this list. The area itself is well known for being associated with glitz, glamour and millionaires, so where better to attend a stunning performance of the opera or theatre? The Casino de Monte-Carlo was built in 1863 by the royal family of Monaco and includes the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, the Grand Théâtre de Monte-Carlo and the offices of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. It acts as a cultural hub for the area and is certainly a well-loved landmark.
Many modern visitors may be used to accessing content online, whether that’s finding a performance through the National Theatre Archive, playing classic table games at PokerStarsCasino or watching an acclaimed ballet on the BFI player. However, the real experience of a venue like the Casino de Monte-Carlo is hard to replicate and really has to be seen to be believed.
Opéra Royal de Versailles
If it’s opulence and luxury that you’re looking for, then you need look no further than the area of Versailles. The palace here was built for King Louis XIV in the late 17th century and has become a byword for awe-inspiring grandeur and the display of enormous wealth. The Opéra Royal de Versailles was built 100 years later to commemorate the marriage of Louis XIV’s great-grandson Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette of Austria and is located to the north-west of the palace itself.
The structure is built almost entirely of wood, giving the venue unmatchable acoustics and a unique interior design. As is to be expected at Versailles, the inside is beautiful and features classical paintings, sparkling chandeliers and faux marble panelling. It is now a favourite destination for French opera-goers and next year will celebrate its 250th anniversary with a programme of The History of Opera in France.
Wherever you choose to watch a performance in France, whether it’s one of the grand buildings mentioned here or somewhere smaller and more casual, you are guaranteed to be in for a treat. The country takes its performance heritage seriously and therefore honours the craft exactly as any audience would hope for.