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The Little Theater of the Queen

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Of course you remember the Andy Hardy movies, or scenes from The Little Rascals in which a group of energetic, talented (Judy Garland) or bumbling (Alfalfa), amateur performers exclaimed, let’s “Put on a show”. The old barn flashes across their minds and soon the cows are out and the piano is in!

While Louis XIV stopped dancing in public on turning 21, and Louis XV was pleased enough with show girls brought to his chambers, Marie Antoinette loved to BE a royal showgirl and did so to the delight of her husband (who preferred to be in the audience) and closest friends throughout her reign. For her own barn-theater, Richard Mique (1728-1794 victim of the terror and guillotine), a student of Ange-Jacques Gabriel (the architect of the Royal Opera in the Palace), designed a small theater in the gardens of the Petit Trianon. The seats are few as this royal talent and exhibitionism could only be shared with closest friends and family of the Dauphine soon to be Queen. There is room for 200 spectators. However, the stage is large with the capabilities of any public opera house. There is a small pit for a chamber orchestra. The house is drop dead beautiful with large gilded mythical statues presiding over the stage apparently approving the pastime of the Queen and the quality of her audience.

The patrons of Op. Lafayette walk to into the closed gardens of Versailles

Today is bright and very cold. The patrons of Opera Lafayette have been invited to take part in a guided tour of this theater and hear a lecture about Monsigny, Sedaine, the court and the Opera Comique. All has been carefully planned in advance however some slippery events have come about to trip up the best laid plan. The cold in France has frozen all the fountains in the gardens of Versailles and one or two promeneurs sportifs decided to glisser (slide) on the ice of the larger fountains. They fell, hurt themselves and, for the good of the public, all the gardens have been closed today. Catastrophe? The guards inform us that we can’t get near the Trianon or theater.

I don’t know how Henry Valoris (general manager of Opera Lafayette and the most hard working dedicated person in our field) did it, but at the appointed hour, though the gardens are deserted, the troop of Lafayetters is allowed into the park and we all walk, as if friends of the Queen, to the Trianon. The park shimmers in frozen winter sunshine and we see all the alleyways and open spaces in a kind of perfect silence.

There is a guide to the Trianon whose grasp of dates is uncanny. “On November 16th at 2 PM,”….”the early morning of June 12th, just before sunrise”… Stunning.

The theater has a small vestibule decorated with 18th century engraved portraits of composers and play writes including Gretry and Beaumarcher. And, as with most interior spaces at Versailles, we enter the theater with a gasp of delight and surprise.  It is in this room that Marie Antoinette performed Le Roi et le fermier and the sets we will use tonight are those that were used here, in 1780, when Marie and her courtier cohorts decided to… “Put on a show!’

Ryan Brown, Loretta O'Sullivan, Tony Boutte and David Newman perform at the Theater of the Queen

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