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Children's Palace - Expo Paris 1889

Children's Palace at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889
Architect(s) : Emile Ulmann

This is at least an intelligent and original idea.

Until then, in the matter of exhibitions, there was nothing special for children, we were content to drown in the articles of Paris and the bookshop, the objects which interested or amused them and which, seen in this way, interested and amused them much less.

The Exposition of 1889 devoted to them an entire palace, which will be both for them and for their parents, a bazaar and a casino, which does not prevent it from being an architectural curiosity; M. Emile Ulmann, grand prix de Rome in 1871, having succeeded in making this toy palace a marvel of elegance and ingenuity.

I say toy palace because of its general appearance, but it is not in the least toy-like in its dimensions, as it covers a large area.

It is true that all this is not only devoted to the satisfaction of our young boys and girls; and as the need was felt for a third theatre at the Exhibition, where everything seems to have to work in threes, we have taken, on the place conceded to the little world, enough to build a theatre, where moreover on certain days, even more frequent for them than for the grown-ups, they will be able to amuse themselves like father and mother.

In the original plan, this theatre consisted simply of a stage for conjurers, equipped at the same time for the installation of puppets, but the idea developed, the project was transformed and there is now, in the middle of the Children's Palace, a large room that can hold 800 people seated, not counting those who will be standing in the promenades; and at the back of this hall a very large stage, suitable for all kinds of exhibitions, acrobats, various Folies-Bergère-type exercises, and also for truly theatrical performances; otherwise we would not have dared to call it the Grand Theatre of the Exhibition.

On this theatre, moreover, the troupe of the Opéra-Comique will give very curious performances, which will make up a sort of retrospective exhibition of comic opera music, a genre dear to our fathers and which, it seems, is eminently national, which does not prevent the Opéra-Comique from being burnt down two years ago, and it has not yet been possible to know whether it will be rebuilt or not.

But the retrospective exhibition which M. Paravey is preparing with the collaboration of M. Danbé, conductor of the Opéra-Comique, and M. Lacome, a musical composer, will not be, and indeed could not be, very complete because of the considerable studies required to stage an old opera; it will only deal with the revolutionary period; and to celebrate the centenary of 1789, eight plays will be performed, successively of course, representing not only the great successes of the Opéra-Comique between 1788 and 1795, but also the trends of the time.

It is obviously because it is a trendy play that the Barber of Seville, with music by Païsiello (which is not precisely French comic opera) and which was not performed in Paris until 1793, has been placed at the top of the programme with the date of 1788; it is true that the play, reworked in French by Framery, had already been performed at Versailles in 1784; taking an average, this gives just the year 1788.

Raoul de Créqui, a comic opera by Dalayrac with lyrics by Monvel, was more accurately represented in 1789.

Next will come :
La Soirée orageuse, also with music by Dalayrac and lyrics by Radet, which was first performed on 29 May 1790.
Nicodème dans la lune, a play by Cousin Jacques (otherwise known as Beffroy de Reigny), which was performed in 1791 and even beyond, since it had more than 400 consecutive performances.
Les Visitandines, a charming comic opera, poem by Picard, music by Devienne, first performed on 7 July 1792.
La Partie carrée, lyrics by Hennequin, music by Gavaux, which was performed at the height of the Terror, on 27 June 1793, and which does not include a single female role.
Les Vrais Sans-Culottes, by Rezicourt and C. Lemoine, first performed on 12 May 1792.
And finally Madame Angot, by Maillot, which was performed in 1795 and the following year, for this play had a considerable fortune, which his daughter inherited.

This is the complete series; when it is exhausted, we will start again, and as the retrospective performances will take place once a week, at three o'clock in the afternoon, it follows that each play will be performed three times, since the Exposition will only last twenty-four weeks.

As for the pieces that are too short to make up a show, they will be reinforced by ballets chosen from among the most amusing in the old repertoire.

The day is not yet fixed, but it will probably be Friday, which is usually the select day.

Apart from this theatre, everything in the palace is devoted to children, and the architect did not want there to be any doubts in this respect, for it is toys of all kinds, but of colossal dimensions, that he has chosen for the ornamentation of his façades and even for the crowning of the building, For the four square turrets flanking the building are topped with toys, windmills with brightly painted wings, which from a distance give the Children's Palace an original appearance and the noisy, cheerful note that suits it.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Maurice Dulac