Bordeaux is one of six French cities with a ‘National Opera’, the others being Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Montpellier and Nancy.
As I have noted in one of my Nancy posts, a ‘National Opera’ is an opera company that is partially financed by the Ministry of Culture in return for fulfilling a catalogue of artistic, professional, territorial and social objectives. These include:
- performing operas from all periods of opera history, from the baroque era to the present
- supporting an ensemble of singers, including young professionals
- giving a specified number of performances in other venues throughout the region
- doing outreach activities to attract new audiences for the opera
The National Opera of Bordeaux is located in the Grand-Théâtre, a truly grand building from the year 1780.
The Grand-Théâtre has a neo-classical façade and a portico with twelve Corinthian columns. Above the columns, on the ‘entablature’ are twelve statues which represent three ancient Greek goddesses (Juno, Venus and Minerva) and the nine muses (Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore and Thalia and Urania, not necessarily in that order.)
When the architect Charles Garnier (1825-1898) was making plans to build what is now called the Opéra Garnier in Paris, he first did a critical study of the staircases he had seen in prominent European theaters, and then wrote an article about them. He acknowledged that his inspiration came primarily from the staircase by Victor Louis (1731-1800) in the Grand-Théâtre of Bordeaux.
Of course Garnier’s staircase in Paris is much larger and more impressive, but it has the same general form as the one in Bordeaux and was built nearly a century later. In both cases, the intention was to provide a setting where elegantly dressed opera goers could see and be seen (by each other) in their full glory as they entered the building.
Today’s opera goers tend to be more casually dressed, especially in France, so the Grand Staircases no longer serve the same social function as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The statues on the Grand Staircase are all of women and of course all allegorical. Two of them are caryatids, lovely ladies who seem to be supporting part of the building with their heads. The caryatid on the left is Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, and the one on the right is Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy. The sculptor was Pierre-François Berruer (1733-1797).
The statue in the alcove on the left side of the staircase is no doubt Euterpe, the Muse of Music.
The main foyer on the first floor of the theater, at the top of the Grand Staircase, is now called Salle Boireau. It was named after Gérard Boireau, who was the director of the Grand Théâtre for many years, until his death in 2004.
In the center of the room is (or was) a large circle of triangular mirrors slanted slightly in different directions, to reflect different sections of the elegantly painted walls and ceiling.
Above the doors, just below the ceiling, are portraits of some famous or then-famous people, including the composer André-Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), whom I have described in two other posts: Grétry birth house and museum in Liège, Belgium, and Grétry in Montmorency, France.
On one of the upper floors of the Grand-Théâtre there is an exhibit on the history of opera, starting with the Baroque period from around 1600 to 1750. As a National Opera the Bordeaux Opera presents at least one Baroque opera each season, for instance in April 2015 the lyric tragedy Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).
The highest point of the building, resembling a crown, is called the Attique — a word which is no doubt related to the English word attic.
Location, aerial view and photo of the Grand-Théâtre on monumentum.fr.
Historical postcard views on Carthalia.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.
Next: Through the Looking Glass.