Under the roof of the Vichy Opera House
The construction of the Vichy Opera House was the result of an innovative architectural program. To fulfill the wishes of the Compagnie Fermière, who wanted the theater to be built quickly and economically, architects Charles Le Cœur and Lucien Woog proposed building the theater hall within a metal framework which would itself be surrounded by an outer stone wall. The structure would be finished with wood and plaster to decorate the interior of the performance hall.
True to the avant-garde approach, Charles Le Cœur enlisted the help of three young associates: the painter-decorator Léon Rudnicki, the sculptor Pierre Seguin, and the metalworker Émile Robert.
Breaking from traditional imagery, the talented artists suggested decor inspired by Art Nouveau and of an astonishing cohesion. The combination of floral decor and yellow and ivory tones gave the theater a unique character.
Decor en relief
The ornamentalist Pierre Seguin created the en relief theater decor. Accentuated in gold, his staff friezes adorned and outlined the structure of the performance hall.
The guard rail on the first balcony displays a chain of roses en relief, blended into successive arches.
The frame and the stage pediment combine with perfect symmetry the repetitive compositions of laces and foliage.
The symmetrical ceiling decor
The luminous rose window is encircled by a wreath of bells. The recessed part is perforated and displays a motif of lyres: a universal symbol of music.
In another example of decor en relief, the decoration on the arches supporting the room's vault was systematically produced using molds made in a workshop.
Theater decor: between harmony and originality
All of the painted decor in the theater hall and its perimeter is the work of the young artist Léon Rudnicki. Originally known for his illustration work, Rudnicki had never worked on interiors before Vichy.
In just two years, he delivered his vision of a theater interior, often breaking with the aesthetic traditions of other venues. The clearest example of this is his use of a new range of colors, where yellow replaces red and becomes the dominant shade.
Instead of traditional imagery, he opted mainly for geometric and floral decoration. Executed using the stenciling technique, his compositions run fluidly along the walls and ceilings of the theater.
The only exceptions to the color yellow are the blue-gray and green tones, which perfectly match the wisteria and cherry patterns and are reserved solely for the vestibules framing the entrance hall.
The Vichy Opera House guardians
In the performance hall, four large lyres decorated with masks adorn the pendentives of the dome. Photograph (left to right): Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin the elder.
These masks, depicting the faces of contemporary artists during the construction of the theater, were created based on photographs by Léon Rudnicki and were the only concession to traditional decor. Photograph (left to right): Cora Laparcerie, Meyriane Héglon, Mounet-Sully.
They are depicted as theatrical masks, wrapped around each lyre. Photograph (left to right): Cléo de Mérode, Émilienne d’Alençon, Albert Lambert fils.
These faces are painted on mounted canvas and nailed to the dome. They are decorated with pearls and gemstones to reflect the light. Photograph (from left to right): Jean-Baptiste Faure(?), Rose Caron, Andrée Mégard.
On the pediment above the stage, Léon Rudnicki framed the dates of the construction of the first music hall 1864 and the new theater “1901” with two Japanese-inspired white peacocks.
The metalwork was created by Émile Robert who, like his colleagues in sculpture and painting, created decor imbued with naturalism.
On the main facade of the theater, the three large glass doors are bordered with flowers in subtle reference to the thermal spa.
Consisting of 17 rectangular panels, this ironwork depicts the motifs of poppies and chrysanthemums.
To access the theater from the Rue de Parc, the marquise door also displays a flowery pattern. It opens out onto the vestibule with a double staircase, the handrail of which is made up of arums.
Around the room, the four staircases serving the two gallery levels depict sequences of flowers with spirals, wreaths, and straight lines.
In all of his work, the metalworker combined the wrought iron technique with the finesse of embossed sheet metal to depict flowers and leaves.
You too can wander through the opera house in search of other Art Nouveau details!
Story by Vichy Culture and the Musée de l'Opéra de Vichy
Museum website: www.operavichy-musee.com
Vichy Opera House website: www.opera-vichy.com