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The World’s Most Special and Legendary Opera Houses

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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · france · Paris · The World’s Most Special and Legendary Opera Houses

Palais Garnier

Author: Margarita Zieda0 COMMENTS

Palais Garnier

The older of the existing buildings housing Opéra National de Paris, it is such a magnificent and incredibly beautiful edifice that it's still being referred to as Palais Garnier - to honour its creator, the architect Charles Garnier. The building, completed in the fifteen years between 1860 and 1875, was commissioned by Napoleon III. Indirectly, one of the reasons behind the decision was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Napoleon III during his and the Empress' visit to Salle Le Peletier, one of the earlier venues of Paris Opera.
The high level of groundwater at the plot chosen for the new opera house caused some serious problems as early as during the first years of construction, giving rise quite a few legends, including the one about an 'opera phantom' navigating an underground lake in his barge. There is indeed a 'lake' under the fundaments of Palais Garnier; it has to be controlled and regularly pumped dry by fire-fighters. Some other recorded historical facts incorporated into the legend of the Phantom of the Opera remain unexplained, including the mysterious noises heard during the first opera performances and the still unclear causes of the tragic accident of 20 May 1896 when the great chandelier weighing a ton somehow became unfastened and fell down, killing Madame Chomette, a lady sitting in the auditorium.
Prior to the opening of L'Opéra Bastille, Palais Garnier was the world's largest opera house, despite the fact that both Milan's Teatro alla Scala and Wiener Staatsoper seated more.
The opulent Neo-baroque building is lined by a number of allegoric sculptures portraying Poetry, Music, Idyll, Recitation, Singing, Drama, Dance and Lyrical Drama, complemented by gilded bronze busts of the greatest composers of the time: Fromental Halévy, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Gioachino Rossini, Daniel Auber, Gaspare Spontini, Beethoven and Mozart, as well as medallion-style portraits of greats, the likes of Haydn, Pergolesi and Bach.
The architect had planned the new opera house as a special example of Napoleon III style, presuming that the goings-on in the front-of-house areas, often surpassing the set in opulence, are equally impressive as the events unfolding on the stage. There is an operatic magnificence to the striking staircase featuring thirty different kinds of marble, the gilt-dominated Grand Foyer with its giant mirrors and chandeliers, the red velvet and gold auditorium with the 8-tonne crystal chandeliers and a ceiling painting by Marc Chagall (a 1964 addition) - the 'second stage' on which the spectators are making their appearance. The design, aiming at unobstructed visibility of the opera-goers to each other, seems to have somewhat neglected the ostensibly more logical task of making it easy to follow the actual performance on the stage. Today, the unhindered view of other spectators, combined with the limited visibility of the stage, may at times become irritating, in which case the thing to do is head back to the Grand Foyer: if you can pull off traversing it in style adequate to the magnificent setting, everything will fall into place.

Place de l´Opéra



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