Although designed and built to be a temporary theatre following the assassination of the Duc de Berry, the Salle Le Peletier would host the Opera for fifty-two glittering years which were highly productive artistically.
The architect François Debret, already responsible for the restoration of the Saint-Denis Basilica, was given a budget of 900,000 francs to convert the Hôtel de Choiseul, following the royal edict of August 9, 1820. The private mansion, which had become State property in 1793, was the only site large enough to build a theatre of the requisite size. Without altering the decor of the new building, Debret was able to reuse and include many components from the theatre in the Rue de Richelieu (sets, stage machinery, but also woodwork and carpentry).
Inaugurated seven months behind schedule on August 16th 1821, the Salle Le Peletier could accommodate 1,800 spectators in an auditorium roughly the same size as that of the Rue de Richelieu. However, the public areas of the theatre, including the galleries, the foyer and the corridors were much larger.
The interior of the auditorium was particularly luxurious, with a colour scheme predominantly comprised of white and gold. Its superb acoustics delighted the public as did the gas lamps which were introduced in 1822 to illuminate the sets for Aladin ou La Lampe merveilleuse, an opera extravaganza with music by Nicolo and Benincori and choreography by Pierre Gardel.
All these factors made the Opera’s time at the Salle Peletier a memorable one. The theatre was the venue for some of the triumphs of French grand opera, namely, Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and Robert le Diable, but it also saw its share of box-office failures including Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Masked balls were all the rage at the Opera, and, in 1837, the cancan made its first appearance there. The subscribers kept company with the dancers and visited them in the Foyer de la Danse before the performances began.
All this activity came to a grinding halt with the great fire of October 28th 1873. Nearly everything was destroyed in the blaze including sets, costumes and scores. However, the Opera’s prompter and Charles Nuitter were able to save some of the House’s historic documents.
Orsini’s failed attempt to assassinate the Emperor at the Opera in 1858 had led to the construction of the Palais Garnier, however, since construction of the latter was not complete, the troupe had to move to the Salle Ventadour in the interim.
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