At the Imperial Theater of Fontainebleau, a sheik signs the check
The imperial theater of the Ile-de-France castle, a jewel of the Second Empire, has been restored thanks to 10 million euros from Abu Dhabi. It was also renamed in honor of Khalifa ben Zayed al-Nahyan.
The dazzling is unmistakable. The eyes are flooded with gold as soon as you discover the place. In stone, metal, wood, plaster, glass or fabrics, on ceilings, balconies, walls and furniture, shades of gold compete for brilliance. All are lit by a masterful central chandelier shining with a thousand lights. The very original ovoid shape of the performance hall accentuates its candy-box aspect. It was designed in 1850 by the architect Hector-Martin Lefuel, whose mission was to house a theater in a wing of the Château de Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne). The work commissioned by Napoleon III enjoyed fleeting glory in the 19th century, before sinking into disrepair and neglect for decades. But it has been restored "identically" a few years ago thanks to the providential patronage of Abu Dhabi. Since its reopening in 2019, the Imperial Theater of Fontainebleau has been called “Cheikh Khalifa ben Zayed al-Nahyan Theater”, named after the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Prince of Abu Dhabi. The plaque, obviously gilded, mentioning the gifts and the name of the sheikh is rather discreet. Nailed to the wall to the right of the entrance to the theater, much higher than the gaze, it can easily escape the attention of visitors. Just like the fact, doubly unheard of in France, of giving to a historic place the name of a foreign head of state, and moreover alive. When we point out the exception to them, those in charge of the castle are dubious. The president of the Château de Fontainebleau, Marie-Christine Labourdette, It is understood that this is the name of the father of the current leader and founder of the UAE, who died in 2004 and who was called Zayed ben Sultan al-Nahyan. However, the documentation produced on the occasion of the reopening of the theater confirms that His Highness Sheikh Khalifa ben Zayed al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, offered France to personally participate in the restoration of a jewel of its heritage.
The worksite in Fontainebleau was the icing on the cake of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a small annex to the colossal and unprecedented contract of around one billion euros, concluded in 2007 between France and the UAE. But there is no need to quibble on the details of a donor's name when it brings ten million euros. "A very large sum for patronage", emphasizes Marie-Christine Labourdette. "An exceptional gesture towards Fontainebleau, classified as a Unesco heritage, a jewel of French history and heritage", adds the one who has been president of the castle since March 2021, that is to say after twelve years of work and the inauguration in June 2019 of the restored theater.
The then Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, negotiator of the agreement, allegedly proposed to include the Fontainebleau theater in the package. He even suggested the idea of giving it the name of the Emirati leader. On the UAE side, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Department is the operator and signatory of the contract, which is also the partner for Fontainebleau. A statement released by the Department during the opening of the theater in June 2019 by the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation reports that "The imperial theater of Fontainebleau reopens its doors after the restoration efforts made possible by Abu Dhabi". The restoration of the theater and sponsorship are not specifically mentioned on the website of the organization dedicated to the promotion of the “heritage and culture of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi”.
The windfall made it possible for curators and restoration experts to undertake the site under ideal conditions comfortably. More than 80% of the original installations and materials could be reused, including 1,200 m² of carpet recovered, cleaned and replaced, the 16,000 linear meters of "Damascus yellow" fabric that cover the walls and the cushioned chairs. and buttons. Craftsmen and entrepreneurs were able to deploy all their experience and their know-how to "the enhancement of this exceptional theater, entirely Second Empire, the only one in Europe", underlines the president of the castle. But this "jewel of French history and heritage"remains a superb inanimate setting, a space too fragile for representation. Even though all the attributes of the theater have been restored to perfect working order, including the sets and the ingenious machinery to change them, they will not be used for the performing arts.
Interview The Château de Fontainebleau houses “a theater conservatory for historians and researchers. The last in Europe to have been so well preserved precisely because it was not used for performances, ” says Marie-Christine Labourdette. This is apparently the historical fate of this hall which has only hosted a dozen shows, including a performance of the Marriage of Figaro (but not quite in opera) and of the classic piece by Alfred de Musset Do not mess with love. The sad fate of this theater is that it was used the most during the Occupation, when the Nazi staff was installed in Fontainebleau. Despite the rather dilapidated state in which the monument then stood, many shows, concerts, and parties took place there. Today, the public can admire the restored work, with organized guided tours, like in a museum.
The last time the silk seats in Damascus were removed was on September 15, 2021, on the occasion of the visit to France of Mohammed ben Zayed, the crown prince of the UAE. Emmanuel Macron then invited his host to lunch at the Château de Fontainebleau and both visited the famous Cheikh Khalifa ben Zayed al-Nahyan Theater. see in Liberation.
article link in French: https://www.liberation.fr/culture/au-theatre-imperial-de-fontainebleau-un-cheikh-signe-le-cheque-20220107_3OVQ34YDP5DE5P2RUUKTBMJRAM/
The imperial theater of the Ile-de-France castle, a jewel of the Second Empire, has been restored thanks to 10 million euros from Abu...