Sunday, May 4, 2008

Paris Opéra - Palais Garnier

The Palais Garnier, commonly known as the Paris Opéra, is a 2,200 seat opera house designed by Charles Garnier in the Neo-Baroque style known as Beaux-Arts. Inaugurated in 1875, it is a monumental, opulently decorated architectural masterpiece of its time.
The building sits at the end of a great street, Avenue de l’Opéra, designed as part of the Parisian reconstruction instigated by Emperor Napoleon III, who chose civic planner Baron Haussmann to carry out the plan. Charles Garnier was an unknown architect when he won the competition for its design. Construction was impeded by foundation difficulties due to a large subterranean lake running under the site.
The design included vast public spaces for patrons to see and be seen while parading amongst its staircases, foyers and reception halls. In 1896 the six ton auditorium chandelier fell, killing an unfortunate patron sitting beneath it. This event, as well as the underground lake and other elements of the opera house, inspired Gaston Leroux to write his 1911 classic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. In 1964 the ceiling area surrounding the chandelier was decorated with a new painting by Marc Chagall. This mural proved controversial, as many felt Chagall's art work clashed with the style of the rest of the theatre.
At the time of its opening in 1875, the opera house was named the Académie Nationale de Musique – Théâtre de l'Opéra. The south (principal) facade bears the names and busts of composers Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini (as expected), but also Spontini, Meyerbeer, Halevy and Auber. It is interesting that Verdi, however, is relegated to a minor position on one of the side streets. How musical legacies change with the passing of time!
In 1989, after the Paris opera completed a new, modern complex (Opéra Bastille) for use as their principal venue, the theatre was re-named Palais Garnier. Today it is used primarily for ballet and small scale operatic works. A 12-year restoration was completed in 2006.
Tours are offered daily in English at 11:30 and 2:30 in July and August (11 Euros), but only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays the rest of the year. Self-guided walk-throughs are possible 10 am to 5 pm for a 7 Euro admission fee. The cashier office is to the left of the entry doors.
A museum shop to the right of the entry sells recordings, opera memorabilia, and even honey produced by the thousands of bees housed on the roof. Honest.
The box office is to the right past the museum shop. The Paris Opera web site can be found at

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