The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a splendid Art Nouveau performance venue, was the site of the most scandalous musical première of the 20th century, the first performance of Stravinsky’s ballet, “Le Sacre du printemps,” on May 29, 1913 – a day of infamy for artistic expression.
The theatre was founded as a venue suitable for contemporary music, dance and opera, unlike traditional, more conservative institutions such as the Paris Opera. Accordingly, it housed the Ballets Russes for its first season, which offered up the world première of the aforementioned “Rite of Spring.”
The complex, intensely rhythmic music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. From the start, with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The police arrived by intermission, but restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly weeping.
The music and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual, an affront to an audience more accustomed to the ballet music of Claude Debussy. Amazingly, the troupe completed its full seven performances of the ballet, without further disruption. Unfortunately, the original choreography has been lost to history.
Although the theatre remains a private venture, it is home to two orchestras, the Orchestre National de France and Orchestre Lamoureux, as well as the Parisian base for the Vienna Philharmonic. Three or four small-scale operas are presented each season, as well.
The building itself, an early example of reinforced concrete construction designed by Auguste Perret, is a classic of Art Deco style outside and Art Nouveau inside. The original décor has been scrupulously preserved and maintained. The third and fifth floors house smaller theatres for dramatic presentations, and an exclusive restaurant, La Maison Blanche, is located on the roof, offering spectacular vistas of the Eiffel Tower to well-heeled diners.
In spite of its name, this theatre is not situated on the Champs-Élysées, but Avenue Montaigne, one of the most exclusive streets in Paris, often compared to Madison Avenue in New York.
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
15, avenue Montaigne
Métro: Alma Marceau