With La Monnaie opera house offering guided tours every Saturday, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the opera theatre. I really enjoyed my previous sneak peak at the opera workshops as part of the Museum Night Fever event held earlier in the year which left me wanting more, so I was lucky to make it for one of the last tours of the season before the opera house closes to the public for some major renovation works.
Our first stop on the 90-minute tour was the main auditorium (Grande Salle), decorated in decadent red and gold. Highlights included the painted dome ceiling and the huge crystal chandelier that hangs from its centre. With seating for over 1.700 spectators, the theatre also includes the orginal Royal Box (Loge Royal), tradtionally reserved for the Belgian royal family, adjacent to the stage. It was fascinating to experience the view from the box, which surprisingly offers a very limited view of the stage, but rather provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the auditorium seating and therefore other theatre-goers – once considered the true spectacle of the theatre.
Tucked away behind the Royal Box is the Salon Royal. Originally used as a space for the royal family to retreat during the performance, the all-marble Salon was completely redecorated in the 1980s in a contemporary style and is now used as a reception room for sponsors and VIPs.
There is a story behind every detail of the La Monnaie theatre, and the grand stairway leading to the auditorium is no exception. The red carpet-coverered stairways, gold railings and elaborate sculptures and artwork feautured on the lower levels leading to the prime setaing areas abruptly give way to bare concrete floors and unadorned walls for the upper levels, a remnant of the connection between the opera and social status, which was reflected in where one sat in the theatre.
Usually not a part of the tour for security reasons, the winding down of operations in the lead-up to the renovations meant that we were exceptionally permitted to visit the stage (la scène) and get a look behind the iron curtain, which is literally that – a curtain made of iron, designed to protect the theatre in case of fire on the stage. Fascinating.
The visit to the costume workshop was a nice complement to my previous visit of the props and set workshops. It was great to see the costumes up close. All the clothing and accessories for La Monnaie’s productions – from wigs and facial hair pieces down to footwear – are made on site, and remain here even after the production is completed. That’s a lot of stored clothing! Interestingly, all the items are sorted by clothing type (skirts, shirts, jackets, etc), rather than by the production they were created for.
Treasures of La Monnaie
The tour ended with a visit to La Monnaie’s museum space, where some of the theatre’s treasures are on display. The definite highlight was the model of an Italian-style baroque theatre, whose pulley system for the changing of backdrops has been meticulously reproduced in miniature. It was amazing to watch a demonstration of this system in action, complete with accompanying classical music. It was such a pleasure to see, and a privelege to be treated to this inside look at the world of La Monnaie opera theatre.
Place de la Monnaie, 1000 Brussels