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Musical Theatre of Besançon

Claude-Joseph-Alexandre Bertrand, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

alias Théâtre musical de Besançon
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)9.8.1784 | opening
Opened with Piron's "La Métromanie" and Grétry's "Le tableau parlant".
(detail)29.4.1958 | conflagration
Destroyed by a fire leaving only the façade with its portico.



The theatre at Besanfon was conceived by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in 1775 and built between 1778 and 1784. Ledoux was a planner of ideal cities, like others mentioned in this chapter, but at the same time a man who went back to first principles and based his theories firmly on the ground. He was the only such planner actually to begin his ideal city (at Chaux). For current theatre design he had little admiration: the planning made it impossible to see or hear, the decoration was vulgar and distracting, the orchestra was placed in the middle of the audience—'quelle incoherence de conceptions!' Like Damun, Ledoux goes back to the crowd of peasants in the street: 'They form a circle, the strongest get to the front, the weak remain further away—each takes a place where he can see best, unimpeded by the people around him.'

    Ledoux's solution is not dissimilar to Gabriel's, though his auditorium is larger and is planned with a more conscious functionalism. The three semicircular tiers of seats (Ledoux abolished boxes) recede as they rise until they reach the theatre's most monumental feature, the curving colonnade (Doric, without bases) supporting a frieze. Never before had classical architecture been adapted so inventively and logically to the requirements of a large modern theatre. Ledoux published a haunting representation of this auditorium reflected in the pupil of a huge eye.

The semi-circle was in fact narrower than the stage. Where the first tier met the proscenium it opened out, making a bell-shaped plan. Behind this tier ran a sculptured frieze with subjects connected with tragedy, comedy and the dance. The tier behind it was more than a gallery: it was an amphitheatre steeply raked and receding far back, holding more people than the parterre.

The proscenium arch was a wide, nearly semi-circular, coffered barrel vault, supported not on columns but on giant rusticated walls, and it held boxes at the sides. This was the avant-scene, a space which Ledoux believed to be vitally important—it should 'link actor and audience, not stand between them'. There were bas-reliefs of chariots in the spandrels.

Nothing proves Ledoux's boldness more than his placing of the orchestra. 'The orchestra, considered as an instrument like the voice, should not be displayed.' Perhaps some of his ideas on this subject derived from his master Blondel, who had proposed bringing the audience close to the stage by dividing the orchestra into two and placing them at the sides ('rather difficult to conduct', comments Patte). An obscure writer called De Marette, whose Memoire sur un nouvel orchestre de salle de spectacles was written, but apparently not published, in the 1770, advocated a position underneath the stage. Ledoux hid the orchestra in a pit which went partly under the stage and was screened from the audience by a hood—an exact prefiguration of what Wagner was to do at Bayreuth. A vaulted space underneath added resonance.

The hot air heating system was even more elaborate than that at Turin. It had six stoves, two of brick on either side of the orchestra pit, and two, covered with tiles, to warm the vestibule and passages.

After surviving with relatively minor alterations, this noble theatre was burnt down in April 1958, only the great Doric portico remaining.


In: Tidworth, Simon : Theatres: An Illustrated History. London 1973 p. 110 –



Author: Simon Tidworth

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