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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Opera Garnier - built for royalty

On my first trip to Paris my breath was taken away by the Opera Garnier. I begged my new boss to drive around the city and return for a second look. Four and a half years later I finally made it inside.

The original opera house of Paris was a bit of a problem. It was set in an old part of the city with narrow winding streets, and was the site of an attempted assassination of Napoleon and Eugenie. Although neither was injured, Napoleon thought he should be able to go to the opera more safely, so he commissioned the Opera Garnier along with a proper boulevard without trees to improve the safety of the approach.

And this opera is all about making a grand entrance. The architect, Charles Garnier designed the whole building to make the women look good ascending the grand staircases. Never mind the actual auditorium - the main part of the building is also a theatre with balconies and boxes for seeing and being seen.

Of course you all know who haunted this opera house. His box was right beside the Emperor's salon, and also very close to a back staircase which must have been convenient for all of those mysterious entrances and exits.

But did you know that the famous scene with the chandelier is based on a true story? Indeed one evening a big counter weight crashed down and crushed a patron.  All fixed now though.

The auditorium ceiling was recently repainted by Chagall. There was not enough light to see it properly so I'm just including a painting of the original here.
Of course the opera was about much more than watching the opera. In fact anyone who was anyone showed up sometime between the second and third act. Otherwise people would think they were not well occupied. The boxes were all about visiting people - with a little light regard for what was on stage.

And the balls, receptions and other grand affairs are still all the rage. Although the opening of the Opera Garnier had a few oversights. By this time France was a republic, and the President was not supposed to grant favours.  Even high society had to pay. Even Charles Garnier, the architect, and it was kind of in his honor. But the setting was unbeatable. Modeled after the Versailles Hall of Mirrors, people claimed the was "too much gold". My opinion? Once you have passed a certain limit (which we certainly have here!) - what can it matter?

My advice - go see this national treasure and just roll around in the obvious excess. The money is already spent, and with sold out performances ranging from €45 to €195 on average  (no box seats at this price!) it seems quite likely to be around for quite some time.


  1. I have never been inside. :) Thanks for sharing the pictures. I miss Paris.

  2. Oh I Must do the proper tour not just much missing.
    Love this. How FAB!


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