The Théâtre Impérial du Châtelet opened its doors for the very first time on 19 August 1862, in the presence of the Empress Eugénie. The honour of inaugurating such a prestigious occasion went to “Rothomago”, a fantasy play written by d'Ennery, Clairville and Monnier.
Seating 2,500 and boasting a stage of 24 x 35 meters, it was the largest venue of its type in Paris at the time. It was an exceptional piece of work noted for its exceptional sound qualities, achieved by using floor parquet, wood-framed seating, and a dome glass roof for optimum sound reflection. The seating sloped quite a bit, opening up perfect sight lines to the orchestra stalls (somewhat reduced however by the numerous columns).
With the tramway running along Victoria avenue and the Bateaux-mouches ferry on the Seine river, the theatre was easy to access and attracted large numbers from the end of the 19th century, who came to applaud the fantasy plays and military dramas, two genres which underscored the theatre's stage and fire effects, and machinery (unparallel anywhere else in the world for many decades).
Eclectic from its beginnings, Châtelet opened its doors to a wide range of artistic disciplines. In 1863, the renowned actor Frédérick Lemaître presented “Don César de Bazan”. This was followed by a regular stream of plays and adaptations including Alexandre Dumas (Twenty years later, Queen Margot), Emile Zola (Germinal, L'Assommoir), Paul Féval (The Hunchback) and Eugène Sue (The Wandering Jew).
From 1873, Théâtre du Châtelet played a pivotal role in the French musical landscape with the setting up of the "Association des Concerts Colonne". Directed by its founder, Edouard Colonne to his death in 1910. The Orchestre Colonne presented turn-of-the-century French composers (Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Massenet, Ravel…), rediscovered the genius of Berlioz, and also looked further afield presenting works from Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms and others.
Created in 1876 and 1880 respectively, "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Michel Strogoff" were regular favourites, until the outbreak of World War II.
Composers such as Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Richard Strauss and Debussy conducted their own work in Châtelet. Orchestras were also invited with Gustav Mahler giving his first concert in France in 1900 at the head of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Châtelet was also home to operettas, variety shows and indeed, cinema with Méliès shooting two scenes for "The Four Hundred Pranks of the Devil" in 1906. Dance was not overlooked and Châtelet had its own corps de ballet.
From 1928 to 1966, Théâtre du Châtelet was directed by Maurice Lehmann, who had a penchant for operettas à grand spectacle and directed a number of shows himself. Lehmann was the first to bring in popular Broadway musicals such as “Mississippi Show Boat” by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, “New Moon” and “Nina Rosa”.
The new Ballets Russes of Monte-Carlo were back in Paris for the 1933-34 season featuring artists such as Chaliapin and Massine.
In 1941, Maurice Lehmann had his greatest success with “Vienna Waltzes” by Johann Strauss father and son. A number of other successes followed including “L'Auberge du cheval blanc” (The White Horse Inn) (1948), “Le Chanteur de Mexico” (The Mexican Singer) (1951), “Méditerranée” (the Mediterranean ) (1955), “Mr. Carnaval” (1965) and many more, featuring leading names of the time such as Fernandel, Luis Mariano, Francis Lopez, Tino Rossi, Georges Guétary…
Rebaptised the Théâtre Musical de Paris (TMP) and subsidized by the City of Paris,
performances restarted in 1980 under the management of Jean-Albert Cartier and the Presidency of Marcel Landowski. The billing and the pricing were reviewed to appeal to a wider audience. From the outset, the TMP hosted several French and foreign productions, co-produced and participated in a number of festival and similar events (Festival d'Automne, dance, poetry, jazz, etc).
Cartier rapidly made a name for himself as a man open to innovation by initiating:
- the "Grands Interprètes et Jeunes Talents" series by which a confirmed artist mentors an emerging musician;
- the "Festival d'orchestres" in June where 10 orchestras present their work over 10 days;
- the "Opéras d'une heure" presented at 6.30 pm, opening the door to contemporary creation (Berio, Aperghis…) ;
- theme series focussing on a composer, an epoque or a country: "Operas of Verdi's Youth", "Russian Season", "300 years of Handel", "Rossini Season", "Black Season", "Schumann Season", "Mozart Season", "Baroque", "Ravel's Complete Works" and "German opera".
Thanks to its packed program combining opera, operetta, musical, ballet, concerts and recitals, the new team has achieved its objective of bringing in a new public, rejuvenating the image of the theatre and making the Théâtre Musical de Paris one of the most vibrant musical venues in Paris.
Performances were then discontinued for one season to modernize the stage house, and it re-opened in October 1999 under the new direction of Jean-Pierre Brossman, former Director of the Opéra National de Lyon.
Keen to pursue the path of eclecticism and diversification, orchestra conductors were put to work with directors and choreographers whose interpretations renewed received perception of the works by, for example, inviting orchestras or choirs specialized in each style. Plays, operas and ballets alternate with concert cycles entrusted to prestigious conductors and orchestras. The Festival des Régions at the end of each season reflects the vibrancy of the current opera landscape in France, with a regional playhouse, selected on the basis of its artistic forces and noteworthy productions, invited to Châtelet for the occasion.
The theatre receives, co-produces or co-directs a series of concerts with Radio-France and the Philharmonic Orchestra, the “Orchestres du Monde” series with IMG, the “Concerts du Dimanche Matin” (Sunday Morning Concerts) or Piano****. The Dance Film Library presents 4 or 5 films a year.
Since re-opening in October 1999, the Théâtre du Châtelet has made definitive measures to attract more young people, teenage students in particular. This was done by initiation classes based on the Châtelet program and by getting sponsors involved (See Young Audiences page).
Audiovisual recordings have been growing considerably in importance and now constitute an integral part of the Theater’s policy.
Jean-Luc Choplin was appointed Director in July 2006, with the intention of making sure Châtelet built on its tradition of excellence in opera and dance, but also reaching out to people who usually would not go to theatre, with the creation of artistic events combing audacity and lightness.
Mr. Choplin’s target is to bring in 300,000 people each season to enjoy an eclectic program, making Châtelet a musical theatre which is joyful, open and educational.