Odéon Theatre – two fires and from local hall to European theatre.
Irish author James Joyce visited the Odéon Theatre on the rue de Corneille in the 6th arrondissement of Paris quite often. If not inside, then outside on the cloisters. He said of the Odéon Cloisters in 1903,
‘It was an appropriate enough meeting place, under the colonnade of a great theatre lined with bookstalls.’
Joyce was twenty years old at the time, and meeting 31-year-old Irish playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909).
Everytime I see pictures of JM Synge, I think of British-Canadian actor Keifer Sutherland (1966-). But, I digress …
James Joyce enjoyed browsing the bookstalls. In the area, French Adrienne Monnier’s bookstore, La Maison des Amis des Livres, was not yet there, which she established at 7 rue de l’Odéon in 1915. Neither was American Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, the English-language bookstore she established in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren before moving to larger premises at 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1922.
So, where once there were bookstalls at the Odéon, they are no more.
France has six national theatres, and the Odéon Theatre is popular because of its location next to the Luxembourg Garden.
The original building, called the Salle (Hall) du Faubourg Saint-Germain, was constructed as a French Theatre between 1779-1782. Charles De Wailly and Marie-Joseph Peyre designed the Neoclassical building. The Theatre opened on 9 April 1782 with The Marriage of Figaro performed in 1784.
In 1797, the architect Jean-Francois Leclerc remodelled the building and it was called the Théâtre de Odéon. Two years later, a fire destroyed the building on 18 March 1799.
It was reconstructed in 1808, designed by Jean Chalgrin, the same person who designed the Arc de Triomphe. It was named the Théâtre de l’Impératrice (Empress Theatre), but everyone still called it The Odéon. It burned down again in 1818.
Architect Pierre Thomas Baraguay built the present building, opened in September 1819. Third time lucky, because it still stands today.
At the same time, in 1819, the name was changed from the Théâtre de l’Impératrice to the Théâtre de l’Europe (Theatre of Europe) and is now a member of the Union of the Theatres of Europe. It’s worth a look as you pass it to visit the Luxembourg Garden.