The Opéra-Comique company was established in 1714 to offer French opera as an alternative to Italian opera that then dominated the continent. Productions at the Opéra-Comique were distinguished from those at the Académie Royale de Musique by their less formal requirements. At different periods, both the Opéra-Comique and the Opéra were united in a common institution.
French opéra comique, in the 19th century at least, did not have to be comic; the term covered a much wider category of work. Notable composers in the history of the Opéra-Comique include Auber, Halévy, Berlioz and Bizet.
The Opéra-Comique staged the first performance of Bizet's Carmen on 3 March 1875 and that of Debussy's only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, on 30 April 1902. Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust also received its ill-fated première on 6 December 1846 at the Opéra-Comique; it was one of the worst setbacks in his career, leaving him heavily in debt and profoundly affecting his attitude to the performance of his music in Paris.
Although the current building, known as the "salle Favart," was built in 1898, the opera house is in itself the oldest one in Paris. Two previous buildings burnt down in 1838 and 1887, not an uncommon occurrence with theatres before the 20th century.