On its own, sovaldi the Avenue Montaigne symbolized the optimism of the Belle Epoque, the last worldly flamboyance before the slaughter of the Great War. Just as diplomatic clouds were gathering overhead, the Theater of the Champs-Élysées was inaugurated in grand style on March 30th, 1913. It is located near a once disreputable plot where a penniless Alphonse Daudet had lived…
Built entirely of reinforced concrete by the Perret brothers’ company, and equipped with excellent
acoustics, it was one of Europe’s most beautiful performance halls, and one that Paris had needed for a very long time. Born thanks to the wish of an extraordinary individual, Gabriel Astruc, and financed by the patronage of great bankers, it was to mark the history of music, dance and theater of the 20th century.
The greatest artists of the period collaborated on the building. The austere edifice, favoring architectural purity, left wide bands for Antoine Bourdelle’s bas-reliefs. On the pediment he installed Apollo in the company of his muses. On the curves of the façade, he sculpted “la Tragédie”, “la Comédie” and “le Drame”. And it was also Bourdelle who set to work on the entry hall, but this time without his hammer and chisel. Here there are frescos of diaphanous beauty and the depths of the sea which he finished in record time. The same prowess can be attributed to Maurice Denis who mounted, around the luminous dome, long paintings representing opera, symphony, chorus and sonata
in mythical images. And there were other artists: Xavier Ker-Roussel for the stage curtain invoking Bacchus, or Vuillard, relating the story of Faust. One could say that the spirit and inspiration of modern art
hovers benevolently over this theater.
On May 29th, 1913, several weeks after its inauguration, the
theater welcomed Diaghilev’s scandalous “Ballets Russes” with the divine Nijinksy in Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre du Printemps’. After hisses and catcalls, blows where exchanged in the loges, the stairwell and even out on the sidewalk. It was a baptism with fanfare that won the Théatre des Champs-Élysées its place in history. Other memorable premieres would follow in each of the three performance halls (in addition to the main theater, there are the Comédie and the Studio) : Cocteau, Picabia and Satie for Parade or Relache, Louis Jouvet, Boulez and Messiaen, but also Josephine Baker, Roland Petit and Janine Charrat, the TNP and Gérard Philipe.
After so many years of brilliant service to the arts, the Theatredes Champs-Elysees was in less than top form at the start of the 1980’s. Its new owner, the Caisse des Dépôts, decided to gave it a much needed lifting, including restoration of public areas to their original form, and updating of technical equipments to meet modern standards of security. It was a new lease on life for this mythical theater, ready to affront the 21st century…