On December 22, 1755, Pyrame et Thisbé, an opera by François Rebel and François Francœur, inaugurated the first theater whose architecture was designed by Jacques Philippe Mareschal. During the night of December 17 to 18, 1785, a fire damaged the theater. It was rebuilt identically and began to operate in 1788. But in 1789, another outbreak of fire deteriorated it again. During the Revolution, the theater was used for various events: propaganda pieces, meeting place for "friends of the constitution". On the night of April 5-6, 18811, a fire completely destroyed the building: nothing was recoverable. A temporary theater, made of wood in 59 days, was built on the Champ de Mars, which has since become the Esplanade, and a competition is launched for the construction of a new building. Opened in 1888, the Opéra Comédie, a large Italian-style theater, is the work of architect Joseph-Marie Cassien-Bernard (1848 - 1926), a student of Charles Garnier.
The building follows the natural slope of the land and takes the shape of a parallelepiped, narrower at the front than at the rear. The young architect, concerned with bourgeois pageantry, adorns the facade with three grandiose arches overlooking three wide doors and a large square, and topped with a balustrade adorned with four statues representing Song, Poetry, Tragedy and Comedy and of a monumental clock, entrusted to the Béziers sculptor Jean-Antoine Injalbert (1845 - 1933), Grand Prix de Rome.
A large double-scrolled white marble staircase leads from the small vestibule to the forecourt of the first gallery. Four other sculptors, Auguste Baussan from Avignon, Alfred Avinaud, Arthur Jullian and Raymond Coste from Montpellier share the sculptures of the grand staircase, the grand and the small vestibule and the four main facades, posterior and side.
The eight frescoes adorning the walls of the Grand Foyer are entrusted, after competition, to young artists from Montpellier, former students of Fine Arts. They represent Dance, Pastoral, Poetry, Comedy, Song, History, Music and Tragedy. La Voix Lactée, a painting measuring nineteen meters by five by Ernest Michel (1833 - 1902) adorns the ceiling of the Grand Foyer. He is also responsible for the decoration of the three domes of the grand staircase: he chooses to represent Dawn, a nymph who is revealed at the rooster crows, the Day symbolized by the chariot of Apollo and the Night, another nymph who wakes up to the song of a troubadour.
The great hall has 1,200 seats like most Italian-style French theaters from the end of the 19th century. It spans five levels, from the parterre, divided by a central corridor, to the fourth gallery surmounted by a painted ceiling. It is dominated by a crystal chandelier in the center of a dome executed by the Marseille painter Jean-Baptiste Arnaud-Durbec in accordance with the imposed motif: "The City of Montpellier under the figure of a woman standing on the steps of the temple glory calling to it poets, literati and musicians, above the opening of the stage, further on, the dances of Languedoc, the dance of chevalet, the dance of the vines, the floral games, the farandole ...".
The monumental chandelier of the Great Hall does not lower for its monthly maintenance but rises, thanks to two movable half domes, until in the room known as" of the chandelier ", where it is fixed in the center of permanent scaffolding facilitating access for electricians. The lambrequin, bearing the date of the opening of the theater, crowns the stage frame, nine meters high and twelve meters eighty meters wide. The stage, with a total surface area of 440 m2, has benefited from the very latest technical progress from the outset: metal frames supporting the wooden walkways and electricity. The pit, originally planned to hold fifty musicians, can now accomodate sixty, following expansion work carried out in 1985.
The Opéra-Comédie is owned by the Métropole de Montpellier and is managed, in agreement with the owner, by the Opéra Orchester national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon association. The Opéra-Comédie mainly hosts productions from the Opéra and Orchester National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon.