From a granary to the Opéra National du Rhin

The Opéra National du Rhin, in its present-day form, has three centuries of history behind it. Come and find out about it!

Opéra national du Rhin

From a granary to the Opéra National du Rhin

Strasbourg in 1681Opéra national du Rhin

Strasbourg has been an intensely artistic city since the Middle Ages. Its position as an intersection for the main roads linking France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands made it accessible to many traveling theater companies. However, it wasn't until 1681 that the city, having been incorporated into France following the Thirty Years' War, became home to a permanent French theater troupe.
The first opera was performed there on April 20, 1700 by singers from Nancy and Metz.

A map of Strasbourg in 1766 (1766) by C.F. BlondelOpéra national du Rhin

To help the troupes to thrive, in 1701 the city converted the local granary into a theater venue, which was named the Opernhaus.
In 1800, this building was destroyed by a great fire. Several proposals and counterproposals for its reconstruction were considered, but ultimately the square then known as Place du Marché-aux-Chevaux (now named Place Broglie) was chosen as the new site.

A big celebration took place on December 2, 1804 to mark the occasion of the first stone being laid. Building work on the design by architect Robin was not completed until 1821. The official opening finally took place in 1822.
Over the years, the theater deteriorated, and so in 1853, restoration work was initiated. The building's structure and decorative elements underwent considerable change.

Paintings, allegories of music, dance, comedy, and tragedy, and chandelier, Strasbourg Opera House (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

Trompe-l’œil paintings and artistic allegories adorn the theater's ceiling
On September 14, 1854, the new venue was opened with an increased capacity of 1,190 seats. The roof was a veritable masterpiece of painting and composition. It featured allegorical depictions of music, dance, tragedy, and comedy. The imperial chandelier was made of solid bronze.

The pink sandstone statues of the six muses that adorn the pediment of the Strasbourg Opera House (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

Six muses observe the city's hustle and bustle
Legend has it that after nine nights of lovemaking, Zeus and Mnemosyne conceived nine daughters, who shared a single passion—singing. Their roles are said to be related to the literary and artistic areas they have come to symbolize.

A fire at the theater in August 1870 by E. SchweitzerOpéra national du Rhin

Strasbourg under attack from Prussia
Against a background of nationalist movements and a conservative, hostile political mood, the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870.
During the Siege of Strasbourg in August and September, Prussian bombardments led to the second fire in the theater's history.
The theater was almost completely destroyed and only its front section, with its colonnade and the statues of the six muses, survived. Strasbourg was then occupied by the Prussians, until finally, it was annexed.

Rotunda at the rear of the building, added in 1899 (2020)Opéra national du Rhin

From 1871 through 1918, during the annexation of Alsace and Moselle to the German Empire, the authorities endowed Strasbourg with structures worthy of its role as the capital of the new German territory of Elsass-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine, which included Alsace and Moselle).

As part of this process, the theater was rebuilt exactly as it was before, including the decorative elements, and was enlarged with the addition of a rotunda to the rear of the building in 1899.

Paul Bastide (1879-1962), director of the Opera, before World War II and then at the Liberation in 1944 (1933)Opéra national du Rhin

Following the liberation of Strasbourg, Paul Bastide was became Director of the theater on November 22, 1918.

The next season opened on March 8, 1919, with performances of Samson and Delilah.

Charles De Gaulle, at Place Broglie, at the city's liberation in November 1944 (1945)Opéra national du Rhin

World War II forced the theater to close its doors once again. During the closure, it underwent major modernization work, most notably the addition of a revolving stage and its lighting system. The latter addition gave it a leading place among France's great theaters (once Strasbourg had become French again). Here, we see General de Gaulle during the liberation ceremony in 1944 at Place Broglie, with the theater in the background.

The Opera House chandelier based on drawings by the architect Villot (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

An imposing feature, the chandelier was the work of a certain Mr. Papischen
With a circumference of almost 50 feet, this chandelier weighs over a ton. Featuring an impressive number of lights (230), it is one of the most beautiful chandeliers housed in any French theater. Its hanging system, solidly anchored to the structure of the roof by a heavy chain, incorporates a counterweight mechanism allowing it to be brought down for the replacement of bulbs, maintenance, and so on.

The process takes an hour.

Cherub of the theater (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

In 1964, the theater, including the revolving stage, was fully refurbished; the paintings—particularly those on the ceiling of the main hall—were restored almost to their original state, and the cherubs (known as the “putti”) were gilded using gold leaf.

View from the background of the stage, with its rotating part (2009)Opéra national du Rhin

View from the background of the stage, with its rotating part

The opera house foyer, known as the Paul Bastide room with a bust of Louis Apffel, whose bequeathed fortune founded the Strasbourg music academy. (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

In 1990, Catherine Trautmann, Mayor of the City of Strasbourg at the time, renamed the opera house's Grand Foyer as the Salle Paul Bastide in tribute to the man who directed the theater from 1918 until the annexation of Alsace in 1940, and then again after its liberation, from 1945 through 1950.

The Opéra National du Rhin named Opera of the year (2019)Opéra national du Rhin

One of the aspects of the Opéra National du Rhin that makes it distinctive is that it has been jointly managed by three different cities since 1972. Each city contributes with its own creative activity: the opera in Strasbourg, the ballet at the national choreography center in Mulhouse since 1985, and the Opéra Studio, a training center for young singers in Colmar.

In 1997, the ONR was awarded "Opéra National" status. In 2019, it was named Opera Company of the Year by Opernwelt magazine.

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