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Opera Hall

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Map of Versailles
At the end of Louis XV’s reign in 1770, a large event hall was built at Versailles. One key reason for this construction was the marriage of the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) to Marie Antoinette; a large space was needed for the wedding banquet and the celebratory balls that followed.

This was the first opera hall  in France built in an oval  shape. Its decoration was distinctly modern, setting the terms of the style that would become identified with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Turning to classical antiquity for inspiration, the royal sculptor Pajou ornamented the hall with  bas-reliefs and neo-classical motifs including Greek gods and signs of the Zodiac. 

The ceiling features Apollo surrounded by the Graces and the Muses.  Equally cutting-edge was the technology, which included  a mechanical system that could raise the floor of the orchestra level with the stage for balls and other festivities.   However, it took 10,000 candles to illuminate the  entire hall, which made it much more practical for performances than for parties.

Marie Antoinette was a great opera fan, so she must have appreciated the excellent acoustics of the Royal Opera Hall.   She brought with her from Vienna a love for music that was meant to appeal to the heart, in stark contrast to French music, whose emphasis on harmony appealed more to the listener's head. 

Marie Antoinette was a major champion and patron of the composer Glück, whose operas had audiences in both Paris and Versailles in tears.  Despite or perhaps because of the popularity of the new music, Marie Antoinette's association with this foreign influence was used against her by enemies at court, who blamed her for the German music that stole the hearts of the French public.

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