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From Carmen to Melisande - Debussy

From Carmen to Melisande


Dramas at the opera comique

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Why you will love it?

“Toreador! Toreador!” is a very Spanish line, but the opera is very much French. But Carmen by Georges Bizet is not the only French opera that amassed great success. To commemorate the tercentenary of the Opera Comique, one of the city’s iconic operas, the Petit Palais has gathered more than 200 objects related to 7 great operas composed between 1870 and 1902 that are still popular today: Carmen, The Tales of Hoffmann, Lakme, Manon, The Dream, Louise, and Pelleas and Melisande. A fabulous journey to the heart of French opera awaits. Enjoy! Parisianist.

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About this place

Petit Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris
Line 1/13 - Champs-Elysées Clémenceau

Friday : 10:00 am - 21:00 pm
more less
Monday : Closed Tuesday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Wednesday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Thursday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Friday : 10:00 am - 21:00 pm Saturday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Sunday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm

Our Insiders' Article

Carmen to Melisande

Surely, “Love is a rebellious bird” rings a bell? At the end of the 19th century, France was at the apex of its international output and musical creations were at their height. It is at the Opera Comique, one of the 3 oldest theatrical institutions in France, created in 1715, that many of these shows were put on. The Petit Palais has collected more than 200 items (sheet music, paintings, costumes, photos, models, and posters) in order to pay homage to the 7 operas that represented French musical life: Carmen, The Tales of Hoffmann, Lakme, Manon, The Dream, Louise, and Pelleas and Melisande.

Bizet to Debussy

The exhibition is chronological and thematic: each room is dedicated to each of the 7 works, and they are organized in chronological order. You will be welcomed by paintings of Carmen and Melisande, and through a reproduction of the backstage of the Opera Comique, you will be plunged into the world of each musical work. Don’t forget to glance upward and admire the reproductions of the Opera Comique’s ceiling! You will discover here the dramas that occurred at the Opera Comique: the dramatic operas (if only Bizet could alter the tragic fate of Carmen!), the fire of 1887, and the drama surrounding the composers…

Carmen to Manon

The exhibition begins with Carmen, based on the novel by Prosper Mérimée and commissioned by the Opera Comique in 1872. Here you will find costumes, paintings, and even sheet music corrected (between performances) by Bizet. Next come rooms dedicated to The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach, cellist of the Opera Comique before becoming a composer, who passed away during the writing of his opera; Lakmé by Leo Delibes, composed with the director of the Opera Comique; and Manon by Jules Massenet.

Parisianist Fun Fact: The actress of Carmen sent a telegram in 1875 (viewable in the exhibition) to the Opera Comique on June 2nd announcing that she was feeling ill. She had “seen” the death of the composer during the show the night before. Georges Bizet passed away on June 3rd, 1875…

Bruneau to Debussy

On May 25, 1887, 2000 people attended a performance at the Opera Comique, illuminated by gas lighting. A small flame escaped from one of the lamps and set fire to the décor…200 people died in this tragedy (since then, all doors of public buildings open outward to avoid trapping spectators). In 1898, the Favart Hall (the auditorium of the Opera Comique) was reconstructed for the third time. It was here that the following masterpieces were performed: The Dream by Alfred Bruneau (in collaboration with Emile Zola), Louise by Gustave Charpentier, and Pelleas and Melisande by Claude Debussy (by Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck, who rejected Debussy’s work following a rejection of his companion who was to play the role of Melisande)


The Petit Palais does a brilliant job of shedding light on the world of opera during the Belle Epoque. The objects, decor, and specific route of the exhibition give a very precise idea of the importance of opera, of the Opera Comique, and of French pieces that gained much international success. The exhibition is therefore geared toward lovers of the opera and its role in France at the end of the 19th century. If you are one of them or if you visit the Petit Palais, this exhibition is certainly worth a visit. Otherwise, its specific and particular theme might not interest everyone, even if the works exhibited are remarkable.

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