Palais Garnier in Paris

December 1st, 2017 | Destination: | Rubric: General, Opera Houses, Theaters, Libraries, Paris |

Palais Garnier © - Peter Rivera/cc-by-2.0

Palais Garnier © – Peter Rivera/cc-by-2.0

The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was called the Salle des Capucines, because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier, in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. The theatre is also often referred to as the Opéra Garnier and historically was known as the Opéra de Paris or simply the Opéra, as it was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when the Opéra Bastille opened at the Place de la Bastille. The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet. The Palais Garnier has been called “probably the most famous opera house in the world, a symbol of Paris like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or the Sacré Coeur Basilica.” This is at least partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux‘s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, especially, the novel’s subsequent adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s popular 1986 musical. Another contributing factor is that among the buildings constructed in Paris during the Second Empire, besides being the most expensive, it has been described as the only one that is “unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.” This opinion is far from unanimous however: the 20th-century French architect Le Corbusier once described it as “a lying art” and contended that the “Garnier movement is a décor of the grave”. The Palais Garnier also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum), although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the museum is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.

The Palais Garnier is a building of exceptional opulence. The style is monumental and considered Second-Empire Beaux-Arts style with axial symmetry in plan and eclectic exterior ornamentation with an abundance of Neo-Baroque decorative elements. These include very elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology.

Main facade
The principal facade is on the south side of the building, overlooking the Place de l’Opéra and terminates the perspective along the Avenue de l’Opéra. Fourteen painters, mosaicists and seventy-three sculptors participated in the creation of its ornamentation. The two gilded figural groups, Charles Gumery‘s L’Harmonie (Harmony) and La Poésie (Poetry), crown the apexes of the principal facade’s left and right avant-corps. They are both made of gilt copper electrotype. The bases of the two avant-corps are decorated (from left to right) with four major multi-figure groups sculpted by: François Jouffroy (Poetry, also known as Harmony), Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume (Instrumental Music), Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (The Dance, criticised for indecency), and Jean-Joseph Perraud (Lyrical Drama). The facade also incorporates other work by Gumery, Alexandre Falguière, and others. Gilded galvanoplastic bronze busts of many of the great composers are located between the columns of the theatre’s front façade and depict from left to right: Rossini, Auber, Beethoven, Mozart, Spontini, Meyerbeer, and Halévy. On the left and right lateral returns of the front facade are busts of the librettists Eugène Scribe and Philippe Quinault, respectively.

Stage flytower
The sculptural group Apollo, Poetry, and Music, located at the apex of the south gable of the stage flytower, is the work of Aimé Millet, and the two smaller bronze Pegasus figures at either end of the south gable are by Eugène-Louis Lequesne.

Palais Garnier © - Peter Rivera/cc-by-2.0 The Grand Foyer © Degrémont Anthony/cc-by-sa-3.0 L'Opéra Restaurant © Blanc6/cc-by-sa-3.0 West facade and the Pavillon de l'Empereur © Philippe Alès/cc-by-sa-3.0
West facade and the Pavillon de l'Empereur © Philippe Alès/cc-by-sa-3.0
Pavillon de l’Empereur
Also known as the Rotonde de l’Empereur, this group of rooms is located on the left (west) side of the building and was designed to allow secure and direct access by the Emperor via a double ramp to the building. When the Empire fell, work stopped, leaving unfinished dressed stonework. It now houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum) which is home to nearly 600,000 documents including 100,000 books, 1,680 periodicals, 10,000 programs, letters, 100,000 photographs, sketches of costumes and sets, posters and historical administrative records.

Pavillon des Abonnés
Located on the right (east) side of the building as a counterpart to the Pavillon de l’Empereur, this pavilion was designed to allow subscribers (abonnés) direct access from their carriages to the interior of the building. It is covered by a 13.5-metre diameter dome. Two pairs of obelisks marking the entrances of the Rotunda to the north and the south.

The interior consists of interweaving corridors, stairwells, alcoves and landings allowing the movement of large numbers of people and space for socialising during intermission. Rich with velvet, gold leaf, and cherubim and nymphs, the interior is characteristic of Baroque sumptuousness.

Grand staircase
The building features a large ceremonial staircase of white marble with a balustrade of red and green marble, which divides into two divergent flights of stairs that lead to the Grand Foyer. Its design was inspired by Victor Louis‘s grand staircase for the Théâtre de Bordeaux. The pedestals of the staircase are decorated with female torchères, created by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. The ceiling above the staircase was painted by Isidore Pils to depict The Triumph of Apollo, The Enchantment of Music Deploying its Charms, Minerva Fighting Brutality Watched by the Gods of Olympus, and The City of Paris Receiving the Plan of the New Opéra. When they were first fixed in place two months before the opening of the building it was obvious to Garnier that they were too dark for the space. With the help of two of his students, Pils had to rework the canvases while they were in place overhead on the ceiling and, at the age of 61, he fell ill. His students had to finish the work, which was completed the day before the opening and the scaffolding was removed.

Grand Foyer
This hall 18 meters high, 154 meters long and 13 meters wide was designed to act as a drawing room for Paris society. It was restored in 2004. Its ceiling was painted by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry and represents various moments in the history of music. The foyer opens into an outside loggia at each end of which are the Salon de la Lune and Salon du Soleil.

The auditorium has a traditional Italian horseshoe shape and can seat 1,979. The stage is the largest in Europe and can accommodate as many as 450 artists. The canvas house curtain was painted to represent a draped curtain, complete with tassels and braid. The ceiling area, which surrounds the chandelier, was originally painted by Jules Eugène Lenepveu. In 1964 a new ceiling painted by Marc Chagall was installed on a removable frame over the original. It depicts scenes from operas by 14 composers – Mussorgsky, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Rameau, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Adam, Bizet, Verdi, Beethoven, and Gluck. Although praised by some, others feel Chagall’s work creates “a false note in Garnier’s carefully orchestrated interior.” The 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier. Jules Corboz prepared the model, and it was cast and chased by Lacarière, Delatour & Cie. The total cost came to 30,000 gold francs. The use of a central chandelier aroused controversy, and it was criticised for obstructing views of the stage by patrons in the fourth level boxes and views of the ceiling painted by Eugène Lenepveu. Garnier had anticipated these disadvantages but provided a lively defence in his 1871 book Le Théâtre: “What else could fill the theatre with such joyous life? Who else could offer the variety of forms that we have in the pattern of the flames, in these groups and tiers of points of light, these wild hues of gold flecked with bright spots, and these crystalline highlights?”

Garnier had originally planned to install a restaurant in the opera house; however, for budgetary reasons, it was not completed in the original design. On the third attempt to introduce it since 1875, a restaurant was opened on the eastern side of the building in 2011. The L’Opéra Restaurant was designed by French architect Odile Decq. The chef was Christophe Aribert; in October 2015, Guillame Tison-Malthé became the new head chef. The restaurant, which has three different spaces and a large outside terrace, is accessible to the general public.

Read more on Palais Garnier, – Palais Garnier and Wikipedia Palais Garnier. Photos by Wikimedia Commons.

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