Behind the Costumes of the Opéra Comique


Founded in 1714 during the reign of Louis XIV, the Opéra Comique is one of the older theater companies in France, which went on to give its name to an art form, a mix of satirical dialogue with self-contained musical numbers.

During its glory days in the 19th century, the Opéra Comique premiered French masterpieces such as Carmen by Georges Bizet, Les Contes d’Hoffmannby Jacques Offenbach, Pelléas et Mélisandeby Claude Debussy, L’Heure Espagnole by Maurice Ravel, and Manon by Jules Massenet, and after a history of ups and downs through the 20th century, the company found a new lease of life in this century under the late director Jérôme Savary that continues even today, under the leadership of Jérôme Deschamps.

Last fall, the Opéra Comique cleared out over 4,000 costumes and accessories (hats, gloves, masks), dating from around the 1950s to date, ahead of a planned renovation of its home theater la Salle Favart this summer, but it has still retained many, some of which will be showcased at the Centre National du Costume de Scène et de la Scénographie in Moulins, which specializes in stage costumes.

“L’Opéra Comique and its Treasures” is an opportunity to discover the savoir-faire of the institution’s atelier that creates the colorful costumes, as well as to re-discover many of the company’s repertory masterpieces through the costumes of heroines like Massenet’s tragic Manon or Bizet’s fiery Carmen. Scénographe Macha Makeïeff is presenting over 100 costumes on mannequins set within their opera decors with plenty of accessories like wigs, hats, archives, and video to put the costumes in context.

Spread over 14 rooms, the curation takes on a historical, as well as thematic approach.

The entrance hall of the Salle Favart is reproduced and visitors can learn about the history, scandals, and catastrophes (three fires), while another room reproduces the company’s atelier where a lot of research on textiles is still taking place.

The final room is dedicated to current director Deschamps’s productions since he took over in 2007, including the costumes of his celebrated Mârouf, the Shoemaker of Cairo by Henri Rabaud.

The exhibition run Feb 7 to May 25,  in the  Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins.

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