It’s the theatre where American icon Josephine Baker performed in a variety of revues and where Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky caused an uproar in 1913 with Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), a ballet set to the music of Igor Stravinsky. The story goes that the reaction to the ballet was so intense that spectators came to blows – a battle between those who adored the show and those who despised its “avant-gardeness”.
|The concert hall at the theatre.|
Such sensational times may now be the stuff of legend, but the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is still putting on exciting and thrilling concerts, with internationally renowned artists.
The current season features recitals, concerts by resident and visiting orchestras, chamber music performances, dance, and famous opera productions, among other events. Earlier in November, the illustrious Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra played to a packed house, with the musicians and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet receiving enthusiastic applause for their virtuosity.
Concert-goers get not only the performance on stage but also the unique atmosphere of a theatre rich in the history of France’s capital city. The current location on Avenue Montaigne was at the time of the theatre’s construction (1911 to 1913) quite a different place from the street of luxury brands that it is today.
|Yuri Temirkanov, conductor,|
The Saint Petersbourg Philharmonic Orchestra
According to a theatre historian, this area was on the “periphery of Paris” back then, close to the red-light district, so prospective concert-goers were not at all impressed when the site was acquired by founder Gabriel Astruc, a man of various professions including journalist.
The first drawings of the building were thought to be too “Germanic” (on the eve of World War I), so the originally contracted architect, the Belgian Henry Clemens van de Velde, was soon replaced, while observers wondered if the project would ever get off the ground. His successor was the Brussels-born French architect Auguste Perret, who with his brothers decided on simple clean lines, a striking departure from ornate theatres such as the Palais Garnier. Also brought in were the artists Antoine Bourdelle – who created a bas relief for the façade and frescoes for the atrium – and Maurice Denis, who painted the ceiling of the main concert hall.
|A view of the theatre's foyer.|
Even the latter was not without controversy, as Denis depicted members of his family for the portrayals of mythological scenes, including a nude picture of his second wife among the characters; she was recognizable to concert-goers of the time and is still clearly visible on the domed ceiling.
All this added to chatter about the theatre, which was inaugurated in 1913 and later came to be considered Paris’ first Art Deco building – although that movement didn’t really come into being until the 1920s. The fact that Astruc’s dream was built of reinforced concrete signified a remarkable achievement as well, and that sense of "solidity" was important in uncertain times.
Art was also an essential part of the theatre’s interior design, and the foyer still contains the works of female artist Jacqueline Marval, who produced a series of paintings based on the Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe. Meanwhile, though now faded, the frescoes of Bourdelle continue to evoke a certain ambience in the atrium, where one can sip champagne or wine while waiting for the show to begin.
As for real-life pictures, concert-goers can sign up for a tour and get to see original posters and press photos of “La Baker”, Nijinsky and other stars who have played a part in the history of this Paris institution.
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées has partnered with WICE to offer discounts to members. Below are the details for shows in December and January.