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The Théâtre des Nouveautés, on the rue Vivienne opposite the Paris Bourse, was completed in 1826 and eventually inaugurated as a new vaudeville theatre on 1st March 1827. In the autumn of 1826, Berlioz, short of money and deprived of his allowance by his father, was forced to enlist as a chorister in the new theatre; the story of his successful audition for the post is told at length in the Memoirs (chapter 12; an earlier version of the chapter was published in Le Monde Illustré of 11 December 1858). But the account compresses the perspective somewhat; Berlioz states that his appointment came before he moved in with his compatriot Antoine Charbonnel to a new flat at 58 rue de la Harpe, but a letter of around 10 September 1826, written when he had just moved in to rue de la Harpe, shows that he only accepted the appointment at the theatre a little later and after some hesitation (CG no. 63):
[…] I wanted to join the Théâtre des Nouveautés which is being built at the moment; I was to be given 600 francs and receive the salary for the month of October without doing anything. The idea was to join the chorus; but when I saw what it was like I could no longer decide to demean myself in this way. […]
Berlioz eventually accepted the job but was glad to be able to give up this humiliating source of income in the autumn of 1827, when his father relented and restored his allowance: ‘the stupidity of the music I had to put up with in these little operas which were like vaudevilles, and in these great vaudevilles which pretended to be operas, would in the end have given me cholera or reduced me to a state of stupefaction’ (Memoirs chapter 14; an earlier version of the chapter in Le Monde Illustré of 25 December 1858).
The company closed a few years later, in February 1832, and for the next eight years the theatre was used by the Opéra Comique. The building is no longer extant. The first photo shows the site of the theatre as it is now; the second reproduces a contemporary engraving of 1829 from our own collection.
The photograph reproduced on this page was taken by Michel Austin; the engraving is in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the pictures and information on this page.
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