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The Opéra Comique and its treasures (The Opéra Comique and its treasures)

Start Date 07 February 2015
End Date 06 September 2016
Venue Centre National du Costume de Scene
Location Moulins, France
Curator Macha Makeïeff
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins

Inaugurated on February 7, the exhibition L’Opéra Comique and its treasures presented at the CNCS as part of the Tercentenary of the famous lyric hall, has already welcomed 25,000 visitors. Building on this success, which places the exhibition at the top of the most frequented exhibitions (+ 15% compared to the exhibition scheduled for the same period in 2014), the CNCS is playing extensions until September 6. Visitors are thus given the opportunity to take advantage of long weekends and summer holidays to discover the Opéra Comique with the family in the company of the heroines who have marked its history: Giullietta from Contes d’Hoffmann d’Offenbach, Manon de Massenet, Chives from Reynaldo Hahn or Carmen from Bizet. An eventful story, directed by Macha Makeïeff, which invites the curious to venture into this intimate theater, of the feeling and the emotion that is the comic opera. Throughout the summer, visitors will also be able to enjoy numerous activities around the exhibition, night visits or visits to young audiences, concerts, shows and open-air screenings.

In a scenography by Macha Makeïeff, the works unveiled in sets that revive the spirit of the shows, tell the eventful history of the Parisian hall and of the tricentennial art of costume on which the magic of the lyrical spectacle rests. From the fairground beginnings of the Opéra Comique at the end of the reign of Louis XIV to the resounding creations of recent years under the direction of Jérôme Deschamps, including the major works of Carmen by Bizet and Les Contes d’Hoffmann by ‘Offenbach, the exhibition relates the fascinating history of French lyric art, rich in masterpieces and innovations, but also in dramas, catastrophes and earthy episodes.

The birth of the opera-comic genre, the beginning of the exhibition route

The opéra-comique (where the sung pieces are integrated into spoken theater) was born in the Parisian fairs, seasonal events which stirred the social classes of the Ancien Régime, far from the frozen Court of Versailles and the declining Sun King . Responding to the Parisians’ need for laughter, the comic opera stands out for its satirical spirit , its scenic inventiveness and its  art of involving spectators in its acting , even if it means mocking the great royal institutions. From the beginning of the 18th century, the two specificities of his costume art emerged: truth and character. Glitz and effect will always count for less than readability, relevance, attention to detail and dramatic effectiveness. A mirror of the society which favors it, the opéra-comique declines its dreams and aspirations.

A visit punctuated by opera heroines

From room to room, the visitor discovers the major themes of the history of the repertoire developed around emblematic heroines. Guided through a historical and thematic path by Giullietta of Hoffmann Tales of Offenbach, Massenet’s Manon, Chive Reynaldo Hahn or Bizet’s Carmen, the curious adventure in this theater of the intimate feeling and the emotion that is the opéra-comique.

A reconstruction of the emblematic rooms of the Opéra Comique

Two legendary rooms of the Opéra Comique are recreated in the exhibition: the foyer of the Salle Favart and the Central Costumes. In the first, a grumpy subscriber introduces the visitor in a quirky way to the history of the institution through its scandals, its gossip, its catastrophes … The visitor then discovers a reconstruction of the Central Costumes, a magical place of costume creation but also research, pioneer today for the natural dye of which some secrets are revealed.

The CNCS thus unveils its oldest costumes , some of which have never been exhibited before. In addition, the Opéra Comique presents the know-how of its workshop and the most brilliant achievements of the seasons directed since 2007 by Jérôme Deschamps. Eclecticism, abundance, fantasy and search for truth characterize this tercentenary art of costume on which the magic of lyrical spectacle rests.

Characters and performers from the Opéra Comique welcome visitors on a journey that is both historical and thematic, which unfolds in fourteen exhibition rooms . More than a hundred costumes are staged in sets that revive the spirit of the shows and the beauty of the Salle Favart, with the help of accessories, decorative elements, archives, videos and reports.

From the fair beginnings of the institution, at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, to the resounding creations of recent years, including the major titles such as Carmen by Bizet, Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Offenbach and many others, visitors walk through the fascinating history of French lyric art , rich in masterpieces and innovations, but also in dramas, catastrophes… and earthy episodes!

The Comic Opera

Opened to the public in February 1715, the Opéra Comique is one of the three oldest theatrical institutions in France along with the Opéra and the Comédie-Française . Its tercentenary, registered on the National Commemorations calendar, is celebrated by several heritage events: exhibitions, shows, publications, conferences and digital events.

This regional event will remind us that the Opéra Comique repertoire was for a long time the most performed in the provinces, the most permeable to regional cultures, the most welcoming for artists trained throughout France.


Images courtesy of Centre National du Costume de Scene