Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie/Muntschouwburg
(Place de la Monnaie)
   The Théâtre royal de la Monnaie has been the city's premiere performing arts venue since the 18th century. Today it serves as Belgium's principal opera house.
   The name derives from the mint of the duchy of Brabant, built in 1420, that occupied a portion of the site. In 1531 the mint was demolished and a square laid out. In 1695, Gio-Paolo Bombarda, an Italian who served as director of the Théâtre du Quai au Foin and financial adviser to Governor-general Maximilian II Emmanuel, sought to build a new theater to stage lyrical and dramatic performances as well as ballet. Designed by architects Paolo and Pietro Bezzi, the Théâtre royal de la Monnaie was inaugurated in 1700. In 1810, Napoléon Bonaparte determined to endow Brussels with an updated facility, but it was not until under the Dutch regime that the first stone for a new theater was laid on 9 March 1817. It was built just behind Bombarda's earlier theater, which was located in the current place de la Monnaie. The neoclassical building, designed by Parisian architect Louis Damesne, was inaugurated on 25 May 1819. The simplicity and symmetry of the building, reminiscent of a Greek temple, would serve as a model for a style of architecture that would transform Brussels in the first half of the 19th century.
   Theatergoers attending a performance at the Théâtre royal stormed from the building on the night of 25 August 1830 to join demonstrating workers in launching the Belgian Revolution.
   On 21 January 1855, the theater burned and only the columns and relief remained. Within a year, Joseph Poelaert rebuilt the edifice, enlarging the auditorium and installing grand staircases in the foyer. Thereafter the theater was used only for opera and ballet. It was closed during World War I. During World War II, on 30 September 1944, a gala performance was held to celebrate liberation. In 1963, it was acquired by the state and was designated the royal opera house. It remains one of few Belgian cultural institutions supported by the federal government, which concluded an agreement with the theater guaranteeing finances for the 10-year period 1999-2008.
   In a major renovation project during the 1985-1986 season, when the theater was closed, the auditorium was raised by 4 m (13 ft.). At the end of 1998, the theater purchased the Vanderborght buildings, a block of houses directly behind the facility. The additional space is used for rehearsal halls, offices, workshops, and storage space for archives.
   The repertoire remained largely of French origin until the mid-18th century. Beginning in the mid-1860s, grand opera gained in popularity. La Monnaie witnessed the first performances of Hérodiade (1881) by Jules Massanet (1842-1912), Sigurd (1884) by Ernest Reyer (1823-1909), Gwendoline (1886) by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), Reyer's Salammbô (1890), Fervaâl (1987) and L'étranger (1903) by Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931), and Le Roi Arthus (1903) by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the theater was noted for first performances of French translations of especially German works. In 1970, Lohengrin was performed and the first French-language rendition of Parsifal was staged in 1914.
   The interwar years witnessed first performances of Les Malheurs d'Orphée (1926) by Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), Le Joueur (in French, 1929) by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Wozzeck (in French, 1932) by Alban Berg (1885-1935), and Milhaud's Choéphores (1935) and, after the war, David (1955). The postwar years saw first performances of French productions of operas by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), including The Rape of Lucretius and Peter Grimes.
   During the 1980s, the theater, under the direction of Gerard Morcier and musical directors Sir John Pritchard and Sylvain Cam-breling, attained European standards of quality in productions. Under the motto "making opera into theater," Morcier continued to commission new works at the same time that interpretations of great classical works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Guiseppe Verdi (1813-1901), and Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and others were staged. In 1992, Bernard Foccroulle succeeded Mortier as director, and new productions were added to the traditional repertoire with a focus placed on 20th-century works, notably those of Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), Béla Bartok (1881-1945), and others. Recent first performances include Wintermärchen (1999) by Philippe Boesmans (1948- ) and A God's Liar (2000) by John Casken (1949).
   See also Ballet du XXe Siècle; Music.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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