Part 4: The Salon
The Théâtrophone was so popular that very wealthy Parisians installed them in their homes, allowing them to tune into the major Parisian opera houses and theaters from their parlors.
Many of the proprietors of these wealthy, upper class homes hosted "salons:" elite social gatherings in their parlors, often accompanied by music (and perhaps also by collective théâtrophone listening parties).
For some, the théâtrophone was a nothing more than a public display of wealth: not only could these hosts afford to install a private telephone line in their homes and pay the French telephone company for the service, but they could also afford to pay a monthly fee to the French théâtrophone society for unlimited “livestreaming” via the telephone. Parties would be held at salons, often in competition against other salons – the most lavish of hosts won the popularity.
Not all Parisians sought to show off their wealth through the acquisition of this newfangled technology: instead, some installed théâtrophones so that they could access music and theater in the quiet comfort of their homes.
One example of these individuals is Marcel Proust, a French writer who loved the arts.
Often bedridden due to illness, Proust would not have been able to hear the operatic performances he loved without the telephone installed in his private home. The théâtrophone provided Proust with a means of accessing the world outside his cork-lined bedroom.
Proust was one of the few users who was fairly honest about the théâtrophone’s sound quality—or lack thereof. In a letter to his lover Reynaldo Hahn, Proust admitted that, when listening to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande over the théâtrophone, he mistook the sounds of the intermission for the subtle, speechlike sounds of Debussy’s opera!