Apr 13, 2008

Travel guide: Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse

Place du Capitole
View from the bar on the second floor of the Théâtre du Capitole

The Opera House in Toulouse, le théâtre du Capitole, is located in the heart of the city, on the biggest square of all, la place du Capitole, where one can find numerous brasseries and cafés and other places where you can spend your money while waiting for the doors of the Opera House to open (which they do, eventually, but only 20-30 minutes before the beginning of the show).

Le Capitole, the huge building whose façade was built in 1750, hosting both the City Hall and the Théâtre du Capitole

Both the tickets office and the entrance of the House are located on the far right of the gigantic building also hosting the City Hall. Both are not particularly well-indicated, so attending any show there starts with a bit of a treasure hunt: finding the House.

On the far right side of the building, two doors with no particular indications
the left one is the entrance to the tiny tickets office;
the right one is the actual entrance to the Théâtre du Capitole

The Opera House was inaugurated in 1818 and had to be rebuild after a fire in 1923. Architect Paul Pujol is responsible for the Neo-Baroque interior full of stucco and trompe l'oeil. The result is pretty ugly (green meringue is the image that comes to mind). The seats are amazingly comfortable, except for the loggione part ("le paradis" as we say in France).

Booking is not especially easy, as tickets simply can't be booked online via their website. You either go there in person (which a lot of people do, actually) or phone, if you can speak French and understand the Toulousains speaking French (when I moved to Toulouse to study more than a decade ago, I'll admit I had issues understanding them properly at first - and I'm a native French).

The prices are pretty high (from €34.50 in the loggione to €93), especially if you want to see and hear properly (basically, that means paying €93). The programs also follow on the expensive side (€10, same price as in Paris). But drinks in the various bars in the building (one on the outside of the first balcony, two one floor higher) are exceptionally cheap.

Even in the best seats available (first row of the balcony, facing the stage) the acoustics have substantial flaws, mainly because the orchestra pit is so buried under the stage the sound comes out muffled and smothered, therefore lacking both clarity and purity. That is, to me, the main drawback of this house.

It is widely admitted in France that this house is the second best of the country (to the Paris Opera); for once, I do agree with common sense. The real issue is to see how the overall quality of the performances will evolve as Nicolas Joël lives for Paris in September 2009. His last season will be presented in the next few weeks, and programs will be arriving in the mailboxes in the middle of May.


One can come directly from the train station (Gare Matabiau) via subway (ligne A, arrêt Capitole) in a mere 5 minutes; from the Blagnac airport, things are not quite so simple and I highly suggest taking a cab (at rush hours, it will take you about 30 minutes and €30).
By car, the city centre is full of traffic congestion (especially now that the tramway is under construction); there is an underground car park, operated by Vinci, with fares of €2 per hour under the Place du Capitole, if you can find your way around town (and good luck with that.

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