Charpentier's Leçons des Ténèbres

Royal Chapel of Versailles

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Royal Chapel of Versailles
1 Place Léon Gambetta, 78000 Versailles
Capacity 800 seats


1h 40m

With intermission


Classical concert

For all audiences

In Latin

Highlights: Charpentier's Leçons des Ténèbres

Luminous Darkness Lessons... This is what William Christie invites you to do with the Orchestre des Arts Florissants. Two countertenor voices, two high voices (low tenor or baritone) and two bass voices will be needed to guide you towards the light. Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), one of the most important composers of the Baroque period in France, gave this liturgical musical genre, created in France in the 17th century, its letters of nobility with his Leçons des ténèbres, which are full of deep interiority and great spirituality. To be discovered in the Royal Chapel of Versailles to taste all the details of this sublime score.



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Story: Charpentier's Leçons des Ténèbres

To appreciate religious music and in particular the Leçons de ténèbres or in English, “Dark lessons”, it is necessary to know a few terms. Here are three that will help you know what you are about to hear: matins, lauds and the office of darkness. The office of matins is the first prayer to sanctify the time of night. The office of Lauds is the Christian prayer for sunrise. As for the office of darkness, it is the name given to matins and lauds of the last three days of Holy Week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). The Leçons de ténèbres is the music accompanying the first of the three nocturnes of each Office of Darkness.

Don't let these three definitions scare you. The beauty of these songs, their grandeur and their serene power can be savored with delight in a place such as the Royal Chapel of Versailles. It should be noted that this liturgical musical genre, born in France in the 17th century, did not survive the Baroque period and died out in the mid-18th century.



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Royal Chapel of Versailles

1 Place Léon Gambetta, 78000 Versailles

The Royal Chapel of Versailles

If buildings could talk, what would they say? Certainly, the Royal Chapel of Versailles could tell a tale or two! After all, it was the venue for the marriage between the last king and queen of France: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The chapel’s construction was completed in 1710 during the reign of Louis XVI’s great-great-great-grandfather, Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. It was the fifth and final chapel to be built at the Palace of Versailles, and it was consecrated to Saint Louis, the patron saint of the king, as well as one of the king’s ancestors.

The architecture itself references this lineage, through several similarities with the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, which Saint Louis had founded, as well as in the emblazoned double-L motif on the altar symbolizing the saint, and the Sun King together. The vaulted ceiling of the Royal Chapel of Versailles was constructed by Hardouin-Mansart, without the use of transvers ribs, in order to create a vast, uninterrupted depiction of the Holy Trinity, above the heads of the congregation. For decades, this painting would look down on the French Royal Family as they took their daily mass, an event which became renowned across Europe for its use of music, played on a huge organ designed by Cliquot.

The Royal Chapel of Versailles also incorporates classical-inspired designs in its impressive colonnades, which we have come to associate with the Neoclassical boom of the 18th century, however, the chapel’s construction was completed long before the movement really came to prominence, showing that its architects were truly ahead of their time. Since the chapel’s deconsecration in the 19th century, it has become a go-to venue for classical concerts, and so it should be, having been the epicenter of European music in centuries gone by. What better place to experience the history of music!

Fast facts
Capacity: 800
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Air conditioning: No
Heating: Yes
Coat Check: Yes (free service)


How do I get to the Royal Chapel of Versailles?

The Royal Opera of Versailles is accessible by:
Metro lines: You can take the RER C to Versailles Château Rive Gauche, lines N and U of the Transilien to Versailles Chantiers, and line L to Versailles Rive Droite. Bus lines: You can take bus line 171 The Royal Opera is located on the grounds of the Castle. Access is via Door B (on the right in the Cour d'honneur, near the Royal Chapel).

Our customer service can be reached in case of difficulty from 10 am to 7 pm, Monday to Friday. For more information, please consult the map above.

What do I do when I get to the theater?

We recommend that you arrive at least 20 minutes before the start of Leçons des ténèbres. Show your ticket at reception and the staff will take care of you.

Can I take photos during the show?

In order not to disturb the artists and for the comfort of other spectators, it is forbidden to take pictures during Leçons des ténèbres. However, you can take photos of the Royal Chapel before and after the performance to remember your gorgeous Parisian evening!

How long does the show last?

Leçons des ténèbres lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, with intermission.

Is the show for travelers or French people?

Leçons des ténèbres is performed in Latin but the beauty of Charpentier's music makes it a universal work which makes it easy to understand for everyone.

Is tipping customary?

Each spectator is greeted in the hall by an usher who will lead them to the seat. According to custom at the Royal Chapel of Versailles, ushers may request a tip which you may grant if you wish. It is by no means mandatory.