Tours of the
Tour Hours, Map
and Places Nearby
Emilie du Chatelet
A Love Story
Voltaire and Emilie
The Little Theater at Cirey
Restoration of the Chateau
Poetry Tribute to Voltaire
Voltaire's Little Theater
Voltaire's Little Theater at the Chateau de Cirey is of special historic value and is one of the few remaining examples of the of the early theaters in France.
It is likely that there are thirty court and private chateau theaters in existence in France today, and many of these are in a critical state. Thus, it is fortunate that Voltaire's Little Theater at was restored in 1999.
Earliest Remaining Private Theater
The Little Theater at Cirey is one of the oldest stages in France and was built in 1735. Except for the prestigious Opéra de Versailles (1770) and the charming Queen's Theater in the Petit Trianon of Versailles (1780), there are no other private 18th century theaters in France. The little theater was used in the first half of the 19th century, and has undergone some changes.
The true architectural origin of the French theater dates from the second half of the 18th century. It is rare to find a theatrical structure used uniquely for plays before this date. Until the mid 1700's, there were few theaters and the existing ones were poorly designed for performances. It is paradoxical that France, a country which valued theater as a part of its national culture, was so slow to develop theatrical architecture comparable to Italy.
Voltaire himself complained about the state of affairs after the failure of one of his plays "Semiramis," performed in Paris in 1748. He attributed the failure of the play to the sad state of the performance hall of the Comedie Francaise. Although it would be ten years before the French would create theaters based on the Italian model, Voltaire moved quickly to build an appropriate theater at Cirey.
Despite its small size, Voltaire's Little Theater has all of the necessary characteristics for a successful performance. Voltaire designed the stage at Cirey to only be used by the actors. At that time in France, spectators who were more interested in being seen than watching the play, were allowed to sit at the left and right sides of the stage. There was box seating to provide the best view possible, and the theater had permanent scenery that provided a background setting for performances.
And most significantly, this is the only existing theater created by Voltaire, one of France's most noted writers of plays for the theater. The Théâtre des Délices and the Théâtre de Ferney which he created after his departure from Cirey no longer exist. Therefore the Théâtre de Cirey is of incomparable historic value.
The little theater consists of a small room hidden in the attic where five banquettes provided seating for about fifteen spectators. There is a small raised stage. It is surrounded by a frame in fragile paper, painted in "trompe l'oeil" style. "Trompe l'oeil" is a style of painting in which objects are painted with realistic detail.
The stage curtain, made of several layers of material sewn together, is also painted in "trompe l'oeil." Its well-conserved blue color was a striking addition to the theater. The center medallion which dominated the stage is removable. The visible coat of arms could be replaced by another frame that held the title of the performance. Some of these frames were found during the restoration. Unfortunately, they were no longer legible.
When Mme du Châtelet was not acting a role in the play, she would sit in her own box which was bordered with a painted wooden railing. On the opposite side of the room, to create a symmetrical effect, there was a "trompe l'oeil" mural depicting another group of spectators in their box. This mural was partly covered with plaster during the last century due to a change in taste.
The original mural depicted a lecherous priest leaning over to observe the plunging neckline of a young woman. The woman's hand remains painted on the right side of the balcony. Amusingly, the one remaining person on the mural is also looking at the beautiful young woman and showing no interest in what is happening on stage.
There are three separate scenic decors. They are composed of painted canvas stretched over wooden frames.
* The rustic room
The rustic room represents a modest interior accentuated by "trompe l'oeil" painting techniques. The total effect is charming and realistic.