A mobile theatre – at home anywhere?
A mobile wooden theatre, built for the Comédie Française, is currently standing in Geneva, close to the UN headquarters. It is set to remain until 2018, when the renovation of the Geneva opera house is due to be completed. While the basic elements of the original Théâtre Ephémère (temporary theatre) were simply re-used, several alterations were made to turn it into a venue for opera. In view of its current location, it has been renamed the Théâtre des Nations. But its future is already under discussion.
The Théâtre Ephémère was first built in 2012 for the Comédie Française, whose main workplace, the Salle Richelieu in the heart of Paris, was having new stage technology installed. France’s leading drama ensemble needed an alternative venue. Luckily – space is at a premium in Paris – they were able to use the royal palace’s Cour d’honneur. Here, the architects Alain-Charles Perrot and Florent Richard, cooperating with scenographer Michel Fayet, could build the temporary theatre directly adjoining the Salle Richelieu and so create essential underground access to the theatre’s warehouses and boxes. With its good acoustics and warm atmosphere, the 750-seat venue proved very popular with the public.
Off to Switzerland!
A few years later, the Grand Théâtre de Genève was looking for an alternative venue during its two-year renovation, scheduled to be completed in June 2018. A space was found in Geneva for the temporary theatre, but on a hilly field not far from the UN headquarters and directly opposite the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. This location then gave the mobile venue its new name: Opéra des Nations.
As the requirements and conditions in Geneva differed from those in Paris, it was not rebuilt as a 1:1 duplicate of the original. Additional boxes were attached to make up for its isolated location in Geneva, and an orchestra pit installed as it will be used for opera rather than drama. And the capacity was enlarged from 750 to 1118. All in all, the wooden foundations now cover 2800 m²: The original 60 x 20 m structure was extended to 80 x 35 m including the foundations. Instead of laying concrete for these, 300 wooden posts were inserted in the ground. All sourced from local forests, they now bear the weight of the opera house. So, it was widened to allow for more seating, and lengthened to make space for the orchestra pit and the boxes. In addition, crossbeams were installed and a second floor with extensive reception areas. In fact, not much is ephemeral about the Théâtre des Nations. Construction took seven months, at a cost of eleven million Swiss francs – more than was invested in the original construction in Paris but less than a whole new building of the same dimensions, even a wooden one, would have cost.
Perhaps it was built to stay after all: The Théâtre Ephémère has proven so popular that the Genevans are considering keeping it as a permanent institution for the many diplomats in the city.
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