Wednesday, 11 January 2012


The Queen's Theatre at le Petit Trianon. Photo source: chateau de versailles website 

Marie-Antoinette, derided for abusing her official role by spending hours playing at being a shepherdess, was a dutiful and instinctively discerning patroness of the arts - she genuinely enjoyed the opera of Gluck, Salieri, Piccini and Sacchini and appreciated Beaumarchais' Le Mariage de Figaro, immensely popular among the ruling classes who were titillated by a satire against themselves, despite the government's attempts to have it banned.

She selected the play's more innocent predecessor, Le Barbier de Seville, for performance in her private theatre at Versailles, playing the part of Rosine, the future tragic Countess Almaviva. Like other actresses, she knew a good part when she read it, even though she was far too old for it, and wasn't going to turn it down for a petty political reason.

Once she was lit on stage, the actress felt she was in a different, brighter, hotter country. There she could enjoy the illusion of absolute power, in the touching belief that for as long as she appeared to laugh at herself she was immune to attack.

Her Petit Théâtre was a pretty confection in blue and gold, its tiny auditorium decorated with a painted ceiling and gilded sculpture, an architectural illusion made of wood and papier-mâché, built in the grounds of le Petit Trianon which, with its model village and dairy, was the stage-set for the queen's fantasies turning inward, while the public image and real power of the monarchy was disintegrating.

revised extract from an article first published on Rogues and Vagabonds Theatre Website
Pippa Rathborne © 2012