Wasn’t There a Revolution in France?

By: Frank Cadenhead. When I heard that there was a box in the Opéra-Comique that was still in the possession of an aristocratic family, I thought it was a joke. There is a French version of The Onion available but this item was in Le Monde.

It appears that Louis XVI gave a box as a gift to Duke Etienne-François de Choiseul in 1781. Choiseul was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Louis XV, among other posts. Next to the former royal box, it has remained in the same family for well over two centuries, and that is now ten or twelve generations. That is no small achievement because the family’s right to the box, according to the gift order, would expire without a male heir to continue their occupancy.

The Opéra-Comique’s long-time press rep, Alice Bloch, explained that the revolution I remembered reading about, in 1789, did not affect cultural matters. It actually did have a substantial impact and the “court” fashion in art and music immediately disappeared. One example is my encounter with a young couple who were restoring an important chateau they owned in the north of France.  There was a large room with walls completely covered by mirrors. When they started removing the mirrors for restoration, they discovered that the walls of the entire room were covered by an important but seriously degraded fresco by Antoine Watteau. A central figure in the Rococo period of French art, his art would have been seriously “out of fashion” after the revolution. While paintings of this nature usually ended upon the basement, the aristocrats who then owned the chateau felt compelled to create a minor “Hall of Mirrors” to hide the fresco.

But, somehow, the Comique’s gift box keeps on giving. In the past two centuries expanding waist-lines and various fires and restorations have reduced by half the original number who attended performances at the Comique and the Choiseul box, originally for 12, now seats five. This means that the Comique looses a five figure number for seats it cannot sell – between 20,000 and 40,000 euros each year. The good news is that the family and their friends are regulars at this historic theater and there is seldom empty seats.

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