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The Imperial Theatre - Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre

Reopening of the Imperial Theatre at Fontainebleau
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre

The second phase of the restoration of the Imperial Theatre of the Château de Fontainebleau will be completed in June, revealing one of its most secret treasures to the public. On 27 April 2007, a historic agreement was signed in Fontainebleau between France and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. 150 years after the theatre first opened, an extraordinary restoration project was launched thanks to the generosity of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates. 12 years and 10 million euros were required to complete the work of safeguarding and enhancing this architectural masterpiece of the Second Empire.

The Imperial Theatre: a last example of a court theatre

During Napoleon III and Eugénie’s first trip to Fontainebleau in 1853, the decision was taken to build a new theatre there. Between 1853 and 1854, Hector Lefuel skilfully designed a 400-seat auditorium that was inaugurated in 1857. The combination of silk upholstery, flowered carpets and gold ornaments gives the room a sparkling and comfortable atmosphere. Directly inspired by Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Trianon theatre, it is the last example of a court theatre which has preserved all of its historical features, including one of the most important scenery sets in France.

The renaissance of a masterpiece: an impeccable restoration

Five years of study have enabled curators and architects to draw the outlines of this ambitious project, divided into two phases. The first phase of the work, completed in April 2014, focused on the restoration of the auditorium, lobby and imperial foyer. The second phase aimed to restore the stage and its machinery as well as the surrounding areas and upper levels.

The restoration programme focused above all on the preservation of the original materials, and almost 80% of the sets and furniture were preserved. This is an outstanding restoration that brings back the splendour of this historic place, distinguished by its high degree of authenticity. Consequently, the Fontainebleau theatre will constitute a unique museographic space dedicated to the performing and decorative arts of the Second Empire.

A treasure returned to the public

In addition to the auditorium and the imperial foyer, which have been accessible since 2014, the public will be able to discover the stage sets during the summer season. Visitors will be able to admire the theatre as it was experienced by Napoleon III and Eugénie. During the winter, the stage and adjoining lounges will be open, revealing the secrets of how a theatre worked during the Second Empire.

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