Les Chorégies d’Orange Opera in a Roman Theatre
Les Chorégies d’Orange opera starts late, as the summer sun is setting, allowing the heat of the day to dissipate. With the night sky advancing the audience in the old Roman theatre – Théâtre Antique d’Orange – is filled with anticipation of a spectacular production.
Orange, a Roman Town
Today, Orange is 21km from Avignon, although, smaller than the Papal city it once held the seat as the Roman capital of Northern Provence. Initially, the Celts established a settlement in this place in approximately 150 BC, calling it Arausio after their water god. Later founded by the Romans, in 35 BC, there were key decision makers and military figures present in Arausio’s population.
It is difficult to imagine Arausio’s (now Orange) prominence during Roman times. There is little evidence of the city’s former glory under the Roman empire other than the remains of two structures, the Arc de Triomphe and Théâtre Antique d’Orange. The exact timing of the construction of the arch is unclear, although, it once formed part of the town’s fortified walls during the middle ages. Today, the Arc de Triomphe d’Orange stands alone on a busy traffic corridor on the Route Nationale 7 (RN7).
Roman Théâtre Antique
Constructed during the 1st Century AD under Roman direction, the Théâtre Antique d’Orange could hold up to 9,000 spectators. This ancient theatre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, and with good reason, as it is outstanding. Remarkably well-preserved, some experts argue that this theatre is the best remaining example from that era. The towering stage wall is one of the features that make the Théâtre Antique d’Orange unique. This massive wall served an acoustical purpose, and it is almost entirely intact.
Built for entertainment purposes in Roman times, theatres were venues for comedies, tragedies, pantomimes and choral works. The design of Roman theatres was a semi-circle layout, with tiered seating, an orchestra podium and a stage wall. The combination of these elements created excellent acoustics. Tiered seating was designed to provide better visibility for those viewers located further away from the stage. However, the seating also served the purpose of distributing spectators according to their societal ranking, where the dominant military and political figures occupying choice locations in the theatre.
The Fall and Restoration
It is remarkable, with such a tumultuous past that the theatre is so well conserved. The popularity of dramatic, expensive productions enjoyed during Roman times declined as the influence of Christianity rose. The acceptability of such pursuits deemed inappropriate, an in 391 AD under edit from the Catholic Church, the Orange theatre closed.
After the 4th century, barbarians plundered the structure. It later served as a military outpost. During the middle ages, the theatre offered shelter for townsfolk, who built their living quarters within the external walls. Before restoration of the structure could begin the State had to buy out the descendants of those property owners. Reconstruction work on the theatre started in 1825.
Les Chorégies d’Orange
The Théâtre Antique d’Orange has existed as a venue for performances since 1869. Originally named the Roman Festival, and renamed in 1902 to les Chorégies d’Orange.
Today, the theatre in Orange must compete against the other regional centres (Avignon, Marseille, Aix en Provence) to attract spectators. Every summer Les Chorégies d’Orange hosts a short program of opera and classical music.