Founded in 1714, the Opéra Comique is one of the oldest French institutions presenting dramatic and musical works. The building was destroyed by fires, and rebuilt, in 1838 and 1887. Charles Garnier, inspector general, and Louis Bernier, recipient of the Grand Prix de Rome in 1872, completed the current building on the same site, and a restored Opéra Comique was reopened by French President Félix Faure on December 7, 1898. The interior boasts a harmonious ensemble of frescoes depicting music-themed allegorical figures and narratives, as well as gilding, sculpture, woodwork, mosaic work, and gorgeous curtains, all designed to delight opera-goers. As with many opera houses, the task of maintaining the building, mounting performances, and attracting new audiences was a difficult balance. By the end of the twentieth century, the structure and its interiors were in clear need of conservation.
Reinstating the beauty of this fin-de-siècle treasure
In 2007, the French government began an overall renovation of the building, including structural improvements, cleaning of the façade, and restoration. World Monuments Fund became engaged in the conservation of the historic interiors of the foyer and two adjacent lounges to reinstate the beauty of this fin-de-siècle treasure. WMF’s work centered on the wooden Versailles-style floors, mural paintings, decorative elements on the doors, windows, walls, and ceiling lights, as well as the marble-and-mosaic floor.
The original program of the Opéra Comique was to present a style of entertainment that combined theatrical and musical performances by presenting works that included both spoken word and sung narratives and dialogue. This was a great departure from opera, which contains only songs. A revived interest in Opéra Comique performances combined with the conservation of the interior and exterior of the building have made this grand space once again a prominent public destination. The building was added to France’s list of national theaters in 2005.