Two centuries of rich artistic history and dramatic events
The interior layout took the form of a U, as was the tradition, divided into rows, the upper floors with boxes for the upper classes and the ground floor and gallery for the working classes. This arrangement allowed for 2,000 places of which 1,800 were seated. The décor was mostly in the pale colours beloved of the 18th century.
The performance of Auber’s opera, La Muette de Portici, in August 1830, was the trigger for protests against the Dutch domination, since 1815, of the Belgian provinces. The French composer’s opera, largely forgotten today, presents a strong feeling of patriotic and national identity, influenced as it was by the ideas of the French Revolution.
A competition was organised in which the only restriction imposed was that the walls that were saved should be incorporated. Of the 31 proposals submitted not one met with the approval of the City Council, who then asked the City Architect, the Belgian Joseph Poelaert, to take charge of the reconstruction. He took and used many of the ideas of his rejected competitors.
Supported by a cast-iron frame, a great novelty at the time, the auditorium was rebuilt with four floors of balconies with a row of boxes at the back. A large cloakroom and a third basement were added. The outside lateral arcades were closed to house the service areas.
The programming saw many changes in the years that followed, most importanly the gradual disappearance of spoken theatre. Even though famous actors and actresses, such as French actress Sarah Bernhardt, were still regularly welcomed on stage, opera gradually became the principle activity of the theatre.
When the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, la Monnaie became an important centre for the presentation of German works and a refuge for the Parisians who championed the Wagnerian music banned in France. Richard Wagner came in person to la Monnaie to conduct two concerts in 1860. His opera Lohengrin was first performed here in French in 1870.
Peter de Caluwe, General Director of La Monnaie / De Munt
Virginie Peters, Project Coordinator
Isabelle Pouget, Editorial line
Zoé Renaud, Archives of La Monnaie / De Munt