Vichy: From Rotunda to Opera House

The History of Pastimes in Vichy

By Vichy Opera House

Vichy, thermal spa town

The healing properties of Vichy waters have been known since Antiquity. The first thermal spa facilities in the 17th century and the constant modernization of infrastructure enabled the thermal spa town, located in the heart of France in the province of Bourbonnais, to become "the Queen of spa towns".

Step inside the Vichy Opera House for an intimate visit.

Luxurious thermal spa at VichyVichy Opera House

The thermal spa: a place for fun and healing

At the beginning of the 19th century, entertainment and thermal springs could be enjoyed in the same place. The first class thermal spa was not only a place for the public to go for treatments, but also had rooms for games, dances, and shows. These pastimes boomed with the arrival of the Alsace composer and conductor, Isaac Strauss. Starting in 1844, Strauss organized 20 years of concerts and dances. Such events were held in the Rotunda, on the second floor of the building.

The emperor leaving Vichy performance hall by L. DumontVichy Opera House

An imperial reception

In July 1861, Napoleon III undertook his first official stay in Vichy. This was quite an event for the spa town. Among the many festivities organized, a ball was given in his honor in the Rotunda of the thermal establishment.

The emperor leaving Vichy performance hall, L. Dumont, From the collection of: Vichy Opera House
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Napoleon III wanted to make Vichy the first European spa resort. He gave it a particular impetus to compete with, among others, its German counterparts (Baden Baden, Bad Ems, etc.) and ordered major urbanization works to be carried out. At the same time, La Compagnie fermière de l'Etablissement thermal de Vichy, concessionaire of the spa area, ordered the construction of a casino.

Floor plan of the Music Hall, circa 1863 (ca. 1863) by Charles BadgerVichy Opera House

A multi-purpose music hall

Construction plans were entrusted to Parisian architect Charles Badger. The music hall, replacing the old Rotunda, would separate the spa treatments from the entertainment. Just like at the old thermal spa, this building had rooms for games, reading, and socializing, but would make better use of the space.

The innovative music hall

The main novelty was the theater, as it was the first to be installed in a music hall in France. It could seat around 1,000 people and was situated at the center of the building. Thanks to the stage and its modern installations, plays and smaller lyrical works could be performed under the best conditions.

Main façade (Rue de Parc side) (ca. 1863) by Charles BadgerVichy Opera House

An ordered exterior

The Renaissance-inspired, Napoleon III music hall was spread over 26,910 square feet (2,500 m2). The main facade consisted of two wings separated by a large bay with five arches, a conservatory built on the patio in front.

Working on the foundations of the Vichy Music Hall (1863-12-10)Vichy Opera House

Major works

The music hall was to be built to the south of the spa, opposite the first class thermal baths. Work began on the foundations of the building at the end of 1863.

North view of the Vichy Music Hall foundations (1864-01-24)Vichy Opera House

Quick construction

The works made impressive progress. On January 2, 1864, the substructures were erected. By this time Vichy had already designed a train station, a new church, and various hotels. Everything possible was done to make the town appealing and to attract people from all around the world.

Siding and framework for the Vichy Music Hall (1864-08-24)Vichy Opera House

The structure takes shape

On August 24, 1864, the stone and brick walls were put up and the building outline began to materialize. The interior was put together over the winter months, with extreme care and attention to detail.

Main façade of the Music Hall and its garden (1868-10-03)Vichy Opera House

An elegant music hall

Construction of the music hall was completed in the spring of 1865. The left wing was for women, and the right wing served as a reading room. At the center, the function room hosted dances, while the conservatory was mainly used for evening concerts. The building also contained a billiards room and a games room.

A seasonal music hall

The two wings forming the forepart of the building were each flanked by two caryatids. These sculptures, created by Carrier-Belleuse, represented the four seasons: winter and fall to the left, and spring and summer to the right.

Putting the finishing touches to the Vichy Music Hall's performance hall (ca. 1865)Vichy Opera House

An illuminated room

At the center of the music hall was the 85 x 26 feet (26 x 8 meters) rectangular performance hall. It was rounded off in a semicircle at the end with the entrance. The partially vaulted ceiling included a large glass roof that filtered light. The painted decoration, created by Jules Petit, featured large 17th century-style panels rich in imagery.

Inaugural reception for the Vichy Music Hall on July 2, 1865 (1865-07-02) by Auguste TrichonVichy Opera House

A varied program

The music hall opened on July 2, 1865. A performance of Lischen et Fritzchen (a comic opera by Jacques Offenbach) was chosen for the occasion. During the Second French Empire (1852—1870), the artistic seasons were rich. Between May 15 and September 15, the music hall put on different shows every night. The public went crazy for the varied program that included vaudevilles, one-act pieces, monologues, music, and even sleight of hand!

Project (never carried out) to extend the Music Hall by Charles BadgerVichy Opera House

An aborted plan

By the end of the 19th century, Vichy had made its name and would attract more spa-goers each summer. The music hall was frequented by almost 2,000 people a day and could no longer meet the requirements of the spa. The first transformation plans were put forward in 1880 by Charles Badger, who suggested expanding the building on each side, including a new sideways-oriented performance hall on the south side. This project, somewhat lacking in inspiration, was not accepted by the Compagnie Fermière.

Scale view of the Grand Music Hall's main façade (ca. 1901)Vichy Opera House

An ambitious plan

No other plans were suggested until Charles Le Cœur, architect for the Ministry of the Interior, submitted a plan in 1898. His plans for expansion were retained, and work began at the very end of 1899.

Compagnie de Vichy, extension of the Music Hall, general plan (ca. 1903)Vichy Opera House

A new layout

Unlike Badger's proposal, Charles Le Cœur kept the original music hall. He suggested the construction of the new theater to the east of the Casino on the site of the music garden. He designed a large hall to connect the two buildings. The space was reworked, and the old performance hall became a games room.

The façade of the Grand Music Hall theater (ca. 1903)Vichy Opera House

The new theater

The theater was completed in May 1901. The main facade now opened out onto a private garden. There are three bays, with a bullseye above each one. Below, the balconies open out onto a loggia, accessible from the inside through the gallery on the second level. The three large arched doors provide access to the hall from the park.

Plan for the theater at the Grand Vichy Music Hall (1907) by A. BlancVichy Opera House

The amphitheater hall

The performance hall is divided into three parts: the orchestra, the first balcony and the second balcony. The hall can seat 1,483 people and it has a large stage with a modern layout.

The Vichy Opera House performance hall (2017)Vichy Opera House

A theater bathed in light

Unlike classical theaters, the center part of the dome includes a rose window in place of the traditional chandelier. When light shines through this rose window, the room appears to be illuminated by artificial light. For comfort, the balconies were constructed without pillars and the audience's seats are large.

A three-quarter view of the main façade of the Vichy Opera House (2017)Vichy Opera House

The opera house and nature

Today, the Vichy Opera House remains one of the largest theaters in the region. The performance hall was restored in 1994-95 and the building was listed as a historic monument in 1996.

Credits: Story

Story by Vichy Culture and the Musée de l'Opéra de Vichy

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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