Iconic curiosity of Digoine, the small theatre is one of these fragile and magnificent heritage jewels. Built in 1842 upon the request of the Earl and the Countess of Chabrillan, they received guests every summer. Some very well known, like the Goncourt brothers, who will describe the theatre like a “smaller scale version of the Versailles theatre”.
Replica of Italian theatres of the 18th century, this authentic room was conceived by Pierre-Luc-Charles Cicéri, a court painter and head designer of the Paris Opera. We owe him the magnificent stage curtain painted in a ‘trompe-l’œil’ way with imitations of draperies richly adorned. Still from the same artist, stage decorations which represent a forest, a prison, a kitchen and a living room are still very well preserved.
The room has perfect proportions, with its red, gold and white setting and its very particular room acoustic, and could invite around 200 guests while still possessing todays all the traditional attributes of a theatre : a stage with the complete machinery, the gallery, stage rooms, an orchestra pit and the prompter’s box.
As a real ‘théâtre de société’ (‘society theater’), the atmosphere mixed entertainment and intimacy. For instance, to pay tribute to the lady of the house, it was common practice for the guests to put on a little show, an impromptu where they went on stage to caricature in a subtle way the others invited.
Invited in this unique location by the Countess of Chabrillan in 1851, the young cellist Jacques Offenbach composed ‘daydream by the seashore’ and the ‘Triumphal waltz of Digoine’. Unfortunately, the partition of this last one has never been retrieved. Besides, in 1900, the stage-boards of the theatre have been used by the actress Sarah Bernhardt, who came to repeat a play from Edmond Rostand named ‘l’Aiglon’ (eaglet).
The small theatre which is ‘in its own juice’ to use the expression, is part of the next elements that will be restored in the estate.