A bit of history
The opera made its debut in Lausanne in 1755 already.
Although in the 18th Century Lausanne was just a town of seven to nine thousand inhabitants, it already boasted no less than eighteen playhouses, where regular actors and travelling troupes performed. At this time it was common practice to give two performances per night, a play in the first part of the evening, then an opera, usually a comedy or opéra bouffe in the second part.
The majority of performances were operas. For example, out of 80 performances from 6 November 1782 to 18 January 1783, 46 were devoted to opera. Until the French Revolution, the works of Grétry, Duni, Montsigny, Rousseau, Gossec, Philidor, Dezède, Dalayrac, Paisiello, Piccinni, Piis, Barré, etc. made up the core of the repertoire. Historians have revealed that the tastes of the people of Lausanne were close to those of Paris at the time!
After the Revolution, opera flung open its doors to the whole population, no longer catering solely for the aristocracy and the nobility. The opera season was usually in the spring. There were no resident troupes so fashionable works were brought to Lausanne's audiences by troupes of actors. The artists come from Switzerland (Geneva, Bern, Zurich, Basel) and abroad (France, Italy, Germany). The orchestras accompanying them sometimes hired additional professional musicians in Lausanne.
Because they depended upon the programme proposed by the travelling troupes, Lausanne's audiences sometimes had the chance see certain operas just months after their creation, whereas for other performances, several years passed before the right troupe crossed the border.
In 1804 in the square known as la Caroline, currently Rue de Langallerie 5, in what was formerly the suburb of Martherey, a theatre of around 1,100 seats was built, called ‘La Comédie’ or ‘Salle Dupleix’. Until it closed in 1859, ‘La Comédie’ was Lausanne's main theatre. Certain seasons offered a particularly rich programme of performances. In 1839 for example, audiences could appreciate Norma (Bellini), Don Juan (Mozart), La muette de Portici (Auber), Der Freischütz (Weber), Fidelio (Beethoven), Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer), La sonnambula (Bellini), La dame blanche (Boieldieu), Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Roméo et Juliette (Gounod), La Cenerentola (Rossini) and I Capuletti e I Montecchi (Bellini).
After the closure of the ‘Comédie’ and until the construction of the Casino-Théâtre, the current Opéra de Lausanne, performances were given in the small theatre of the Casino de Derrière-Bourg, located where the Banque Cantonale Vaudoise stands today. The Casino-Théâtre, also known as the Salle Georgette, was inaugurated on the 10th May 1871. It was a theatre in the Italian style, with ornamentations by Grasset and decorated by Borschgrave and Bidau. For the first 10 years of its existence, an extremely varied selection of operatic works were on the bill at the ‘Casino-Théâtre’. Novelty was already a commercial argument at that time!
In 1931, a complete restructuring of the theatre began. The original ornamentation and decoration were replaced by the Art-Déco style that we know today. The Casino-Théâtre closed and the Théâtre Municipal was born!
The opera's reopening for the 1932 opera season saw the creation of three troupes (opera, comic opera, operetta) and a choir of forty-two singers.
In addition, a sunken orchestra pit had been installed allowing the orchestra to be expanded to 45-55 or even 66 members depending on the formation required by the work performed (Wagner for example).
Twenty-three years later in 1955, Manual Roth created the Festival d'opéras italiens, and in 1956, the Festival International de Lausanne in the new Beaulieu theatre. From then on, the Théâtre Municipal’s opera season was devoted to the operetta.
It was only from 1971 onwards that the Théâtre Municipal definitively changed course and progressively became the Opéra that we know today. From this time, a certain number of important upheavals took place in the musical and theatrical lives of Lausanne.
The first was the creation of the Théâtre de Vidy and the separation of the Centre Dramatique from the Théâtre Municipal, leaving the latter sole responsibility for operatic and choreographed performances. 1972 saw the end of the Festival d'opéras italiens. Renée Auphan was appointed Director by the Municipalité de Lausanne in 1983, and the Fondation du Théâtre Municipal pour l'art musical, lyrique et chorégraphique was created in 1984.
The decisions of 1972-1983 meant that productions were now being created by Lausanne’s opera, which necessitated the creation of a fixed technical crew, a semi-permanent choir and an arrangement with Lausanne's OCL and Sinfonietta (formerly Orchestre des Rencontres Musicales) orchestras. Thus from 1984 onwards, the Festival International de Lausanne was replaced by a season of operatic and choreographed performances. Rehearsals and performances nine months out of twelve had transformed the Théâtre Municipal into a place of production and the Opéra de Lausanne was born!
The Théâtre de Beaulieu was progressively abandoned, due in particular to scheduling issues and technical problems (rent of equipment, etc.). However, Renée Auphan noticed that the Théâtre du Jorat, in Mézières, was going through a period of disaffection by the public, probably due to an unattractive program. Seduced by the charm of the place, she had the courage and audacity to close the 1985-86 season with L'incoronazione di Poppea, whose success allowed the public to discover the place. The event became a tradition, and from 1986 to 1998 either the beginning or the end of all of the seasons took place in Jorat.
From the season 1999-2000, under the direction of Dominique Meyer then François-Xavier Hauville, all of the operatic performances took place at the Opéra. From the 1st July 2005, Eric Vigié replaced François-Xavier Hauville.
Over the course of its history and succeeding directors, and thanks to bold programming full of discoveries and guests from different horizons, the Opéra de Lausanne has been able to shape and reinforce its personality internationally in the world of opera, a personality which attracts the enthusiasm of artists, audiences and the media alike.