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The lifetime of Salle Ventadour as an artistic venue spans a period of half a century, from 1829 to 1879, during which it had a rather chequered history as the home of a succession of performing companies. The construction of Salle Ventadour, started in 1826 and completed in 1829, was initially intended to provide a new and permanent home for the Opéra-Comique (in place of the Salle Feydeau). The Opéra-Comique gave its opening performance in its new venue on 20 April 1829, but Salle Ventadour soon proved to be a less than ideal home: a rather luxurious hall, it was located in a wealthy and somewhat isolated area in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, and was regarded as remote and uncongenial by the socially more modest public of the Opéra-Comique. Accordingly within 3 years the Opéra-Comique left Salle Ventadour and moved to the Théâtre des Nouveautés where it first performed on 22 September 1832 (it eventually settled in 1840 in Salle Favart). Salle Ventadour remained unused for a while until a new and rather unusual company, the Théâtre Nautique, settled there but that occupancy was also short-lived (1834 to 1835; see below). After another interlude the hall was used for a brief season (30 January to 31 March 1838) by the Théâtre-Italien, which needed a new venue because of the fire which had destroyed Salle Favart, but the Théâtre-Italien soon had to make way to a new company, the Théâtre de la Renaissance, founded by its director Anténor Joly. That company had a restrictive remit — it was not allowed to compete in its repertoire with either the Opéra or the Opéra-Comique; it faced sustained hostility from both and was eventually bankrupted. It had opened on 8 November 1838 (with a performance of Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas) but was forced to close down on 23 April 1840 after a short existence. Its place was taken once more by the Théâtre-Italien, but this time for good: Salle Ventadour now became the permanent home of Italian opera in Paris from 1841 till 1879. In this period Salle Ventadour was commonly referred to not by its name (‘Salle Ventadour’ or ‘Théâtre Ventadour’), but simply as the ‘Théâtre-Italien’. The two designations were sometimes used interchangeably (cf. Berlioz in Journal des Débats 2 December 1850 and 9 February 1860), even when the venue was used, as it commonly was, for performances other than those of Italian operas, such as concerts or plays. Over time the Théâtre-Italien gradually lost its attractiveness and profitability, and eventually it came to an end: in 1879 Salle Ventadour was acquired by a financial company, the Banque d’Escompte de Paris, which established itself there. In 1892 the Banque de France took over the building, and has remained there ever since. It was shortly after the closing down of Salle Ventadour as a performing venue that Octave Fouque published his book Histoire du Théâtre-Ventadour 1829-1879. Opéra-Comique — Théâtre de la Renaissance — Théâtre-Italien (Paris, G. Fischbacher, 1881), from which the outline history given above has been taken. Fouque’s intention was to place on record the artistic history of the building before memories of it faded altogether.
Berlioz had many occasions to attend performances at Salle Ventadour, though his feuilletons only reflect this in part: the period of Salle Ventadour as the home of the Opéra-Comique (1829-1832) came before he started to be a regular music critic (from 1833 onwards), and the activities of the Théâtre-Italien lay explicitly outside his remit as contributor to the Journal des Débats: Italian opera had long been the province there of Émile Delécluze (1781-1863; cf. CG no. 1397 and Journal des Débats 17 January 1851 and 3 April 1858). But Berlioz did have occasion to mention retrospectively the curious episode of the Théâtre Nautique (Débats 30 September 1851), and, in much more positive terms, he reported on the activities of the Théâtre de la Renaissance and its enterprising director Anténor Joly (see especially Débats 9 August, 13 October and 31 December 1839).
As regards performances of his own music, Berlioz was not associated with Salle Ventadour as a concert venue as closely as he was with the Conservatoire or Salle Herz, though it was larger than either of these: its seating capacity was about one and a half times that of the hall of the Conservatoire, i.e. around 1500 (Fouque, op. cit. p. 98). In 1834 Berlioz hoped to be able to organise a major concert in Salle Ventadour the following year in collaboration with Narcisse Girard, who was conductor of the Théâtre Nautique there, and with whom he was at the time on good terms; but the project fell through when the Théâtre Nautique went bankrupt (CG nos. 392 with n. 1, 415, 424, 427bis and 428bis [both in vol. VIII], 435).
In the event Berlioz only gave one major concert that included his own music in Salle Ventadour, on 4 May 1844, though that was a great success: it was a joint concert with Liszt, in which Liszt performed a number of his own pieces, Weber’s Konzertstück for piano and orchestra, as well as his own transcription of the second movement of the Symphonie fantastique, immediately after a performance of the same movement by the full orchestra of the Conservatoire conducted by Berlioz. The German singer Anna Zerr also sang a few German and Italian melodies. In addition Berlioz conducted the whole of Harold en Italie (with Urhan as solo viola), as well as the overtures Les Francs-Juges and the recently composed Le Carnaval romain. Berlioz cheekily reviewed the concert himself (Revue et Gazette Musicale 12 May 1844, reproduced in CM V pp. 479-82) and was very pleased with the results (CG nos. 899 and 902; cf. the letter of 16 May of his uncle Félix Marmion who attended the concert). Much less is known about the only other concert known to have been given by Berlioz in Salle Ventadour: on 9 May 1846, not long after returning from his second trip to Germany, Berlioz conducted a concert in honour of Ibrahim Pacha, governor of Syria and crown prince of Egypt, which had a deliberately oriental flavour: it included Berlioz’s orchestration of Leopold von Meyer’s Marche marocaine, Félicien David’s Le Désert, as well as some other pieces. Another occasion at Salle Ventadour which involved Berlioz, but this time as music critic, were the two concerts given there by Wagner on 25 and 31 January 1860: the review which Berlioz published in the Journal des Débats on 9 February 1860 caused him a great deal of heart-searching (it was reproduced later in À Travers chants).
Salle Ventadour was also used as a venue for plays. In November and December 1844 Berlioz attended there performances of Shakespeare by English actors led by Macready which he praised enthusiastically (Journal des Débats 29 December 1844; cf. CG no. 926). A few years later he also attended other performances of Shakespeare, but this time in Italian translation (Othello in September 1857, cf. CG nos. 2248-9 and Journal des Débats 24 September 1857 [P.S. at the end]; Hamlet and Othello in May 1866, cf. CG nos. 3136, 3141).
The modern photograph reproduced on this page was taken by Michel Austin; other pictures have been scanned from books and newspapers in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
This engraving has been scanned from A. Pugin’s book Paris and its Environs, published in London in 1831.
This engraving is by C Mottram, made after E Lami, printed in Jules Janin’s book, Un hiver à Paris, published in 1843. Janin was a distinguished journalist and literary critic, and from 1829 to 1873, one of the pillars of the influential Journal des Débats. He was a close friend of Berlioz and wrote the text for his cantata le Chant des chemins de fer, which was performed in Lille on 14th June 1846.
The above engraving was published in The Illustrated London News on 8 Febrarry 1851.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the pictures and information on this page. This page created on 19 October 2000; new enlarged version on 1st September 2016.
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