Tafelmusik in Versailles: L'Opéra Royal
Nov 20, 2015

Tafelmusik in Versailles: L'Opéra Royal

William Norris, Managing Director

Well it’s been a rather grey couple of days here in Versailles, with lots of cloud, strong winds and persistent drizzle. This has of course prompted lots of ‘you must be used to this’ jokes, coming as I do from London…

Our rehearsals are in the evening, which has its good and bad sides. On the good side it allows us to explore a bit during the day (although to be fair I have mostly been wrestling with getting the hotel wifi to work), and musicians have gone into Central Paris or explored Versailles itself. On the downside it not only makes for late nights but it also makes dinner pretty tricky – French restaurants generally open at 7pm and not a minute before – and 7pm is precisely when rehearsals start.
Anyway, the grey skies were quickly dispelled yesterday by the first dress rehearsal of Armide. I sat in the Orchestra Stalls (or Parterre as it’s known here) for this, nice and close to the band. The bright and sharp colours of music, staging, costume and dance quickly made me forget the dingy weather outside. Unlike most opera houses, the orchestra are still quite visible rather than being in a sunken pit, which not only appears to have acoustic benefits but also its great to actually be able to see the band playing.
I mentioned in my previous blog that the interior of the Opera House is all made of wood. When you read that it would be easy to think just ‘oh ok’, but when you’re here and you think about it it really is quite extraordinary – particularly as it is so richly decorated and indeed much is painted to look exactly NOT like wood, and instead looks like marble or other materials. While waiting for the rehearsal to start I also looked up and noticed the extraordinary ceiling which depicts Apollo.
Ceiling of L'Opera Royal.  Photo by William Norris

Built between 1763 and 1770 the Opera House is part of the Palace of Versailles and was built for Luis XV. At the time it was lit by ten thousand candles (so it is somewhat miraculous that it hasn’t burnt down), and it was opened with music by Lully – his opera Persée.

Apparently the theatre was not actually used a huge amount – partly because of the enormous cost of lighting those ten thousand candles… (surely by the time you’d lit the last the first would be out?!)

During the 1950’s the opera was closed for a thorough restoration, and reopened in 1957 (nice British-Canadian link here) in the Presence of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Since a further restoration in 2007 (mostly of backstage areas) the opera has hosted a pretty busy schedule of performances, indeed it is probably busier now than it ever was.

Anyway, that’s probably enough history. Sitting in during the first half of the dress rehearsal yesterday my stomach made it known that I hadn’t yet had dinner yet, as I’d been unable to eat prior due to those annoyingly strict opening times of local restaurants. Mindful of the fact I am lucky enough to see the performance twice while here and also not wanting to inflict my rumbling stomach on the band I headed out to find some food during the break…

Today is, if anything, even greyer. Some of our musicians headed to the nearby Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles to play quartets, check out some rare editions and discover rare composers. It sounds like some kind of Baroque musicians heaven!

Tonight sees the opening night of Armide – a full report in my next blog.

See more photos from the tour on our Facebook page.

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