Marseille: The Opera House

Michele Hanrath (December 2005)

Winter is the start of the concert and opera season. Exceptionally here in Provence, with its outstanding summer music festivals, opera is a year round activity. So perhaps we should say ‘indoor opera’. And where to see it in true style is in the opera house of Marseille. Located on the narrow streets of the Vieux Port area, it suddenly appears in all its grandeur, set back on the place Ernst-Reyer which is tucked in between the boutiques and small cafes in this chic neighborhood.

Originally built in 1787 as the Grande Theatre de Marseille, it was ravaged by fire in 1919 leaving a peristyle of ionic columns and the front wall intact. The architects were committed to rebuild the theater within the frame of the original walls which remained standing. The architects Gaston Castel, Henri Ebrard and Georges Raymond started reconstructing the building in 1921 finishing it in 1924.

When looking at the building one can see that the walls were extended by 4 meters on all sides. Above the ionic columns this portion is decorated with a row of bas relief allegorical figures sculpted by Theibold Sartorio harmoniously repeating the rhythm of the columns. An inscription states that “L’Art reçoit la Beauté d’Aphrodite, le Rhyme d’Apollon, d’Equilibre de Pallas et doit à Dyonisos le Mouvement et la Vie.”

When approaching the building one passes through an open grill work fence designed by Castel with bronze medallions decorated with allegorical figures representing the arts of dance and music. Together with the elaborate murals, sculptures and decoration found inside the building, created by at least 20 local artisans, the building became a true representation of the Art Deco movement. of the times. It was declared a monument classé in 1997.

The tourist office gives guided tours of the Opera building and its costume workshop on a monthly or bi monthly schedule which can be found on the internet site or by telephone to 04 91 13 89 00. There are many more tours of historical buildings and themes of the different neighborhoods of Marseille which are posted on this site.

Source: “Classé Monument Historique de Prosper Mérimée aux Nouveaux Patrimonie” -a free booklet found at most tourist offices in the PACA region

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