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Palais Garnier

The Palais Garnier () is an elegant 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally 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 was also often referred to as the Op ra Garnier, the Op ra de Paris or simply the Op ra.[1] It was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when a new 2,700-seat house, the Op ra Bastille, with elaborate facilities for set and production changes, opened at the Place de la Bastille.[2] The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet.

The Palais Garnier is "probably the most famous opera house in the world, a symbol of Paris like Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, or the Sacr Coeur basilica."[3] This is at least partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel The Phantom of the Opera and the novel's subsequent adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular 1986 musical.[3] Another contributing factor is that among the buildings constructed in Paris during the Second Empire, besides being the most expensive,[4] it has been described as the only one that is "unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank."[5]

The Palais Garnier also houses the Biblioth que-Mus e de l'Op ra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum). Although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Biblioth que nationale de France,[6] the museum is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.[7]


Construction history

The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase
The Palais Garnier was designed as part of the great reconstruction of Paris during the Second Empire initiated by Emperor Napoleon III, who chose Baron Haussmann to supervise the reconstruction. In 1858 the Emperor authorized Haussmann to clear the required of land on which to build a second theatre for the world-renowned Parisian Opera and Ballet companies.[8]

The selection of the architect was the subject of an architectural design competition in 1861, a competition which was won by the architect Charles Garnier (1825 1898). Legend has it that the Emperor's wife, the Empress Eug nie, who was likely irritated that her own favored candidate, Viollet-le-Duc, had not been selected, asked the relatively unknown Garnier: "What is this? It's not a style; it's neither Louis Quatorze, nor Louis Quinze, nor Louis Seize!" "Why Ma'am, it's Napol on Trois" replied Garnier "and you're complaining!"[9] Andrew Ayers has written that Garnier's definition "remains undisputed, so much does the Palais Garnier seem emblematic of its time and of the Second Empire that created it. A giddy mixture of up-to-the-minute technology, rather prescriptive rationalism, exuberant eclecticism and astonishing opulence, Garnier's opera encapsulated the divergent tendencies and political and social ambitions of its era."[10] Ayers goes on to say that the judges of the competition in particular admired Garnier's design for "the clarity of his plan, which was a brilliant example of the beaux-arts design methods in which both he and they were thoroughly versed."[10]

Laying of the foundation

Foundation work (20 May 1862)

Initial funds to begin construction were voted on 2 July 1861,[11] and the site was excavated between 27 August and 31 December. On 13 January 1862 the first concrete foundations were poured, starting at the front and progressing sequentially toward the back, with the laying of the substructure masonry beginning as soon as each section of concrete was cast. The opera house needed a much deeper basement in the substage area than other building types, but the level of the groundwater was unexpectedly high. Wells were sunk in February 1862 and eight steam pumps installed in March, but the site would not dry up. To deal with this problem Garnier designed a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture. It incorporated a water course and an enormous concrete cistern (cuve) which would both relieve the pressure of the external groundwater on the basement walls and serve as a reservoir in case of fire. A contract for its construction was signed on 20 June. Soon a persistent legend arose that the opera house was built over a subterranean lake, inspiring Gaston Leroux to incorporate the idea into his novel The Phantom of the Opera. On 21 July the cornerstone was laid at the southeast angle of the building's facade. The brick vault of the cuve was finished by 8 November, and the substructure was essentially complete by the end of the year.[12]


Villeminot model (May 1863)

The emperor expressed an interest in seeing a model of the building, and a plaster scale model (2 cm per meter) was constructed by Louis Villeminot between April 1862 and April 1863 at a cost of more than 8,000 francs. After previewing it, the emperor requested several changes to the design of the building, the most important of which was the suppression of a balustraded terrace with corner groups at the top of the facade and its replacement with a massive attic story fronted by a continuous frieze surmounted by imperial quadrigae over the end bays.[13]

With the incorporated changes, the model was transported over specially installed rails to the Palais de l'Industrie for public display at the 1863 exhibition. Th ophile Gautier wrote of the model (Le Moniteur Universel, 13 May 1863) that "the general arrangement becomes intelligible to all eyes and already acquires a sort of reality that better permits one to prejudge the final effect ... it attracts the crowd's curiosity; it is, in effect, the new Op ra seen through reversed opera glasses."[14] The model is now lost, but it was photographed by J. B. Donas in 1863.[13]

The emperor's quadrigae were never added, although they can be seen in the model. Instead Charles-Alphonse Gum ry's gilded bronze sculptural groups Harmony and Poetry were installed in 1869. The linear frieze seen in the model was also redesigned with alternating low- and high-relief decorative medallions bearing the gilded letters from the imperial monogram ("N" for Napol on, "E" for Empereur). The custom-designed letters were not ready in time for the unveiling and were replaced with commercially available substitutes. After the fall of the empire in 1870, Garnier was relieved to be able to remove them from the medallions. Letters in Garnier's original design were finally installed during the restoration of the building in 2000.[15]

Change in name

The scaffolding concealing the facade was removed on 15 August 1867 in time for the Paris Exposition of 1867. The official title of the Paris Opera was prominently displayed on the entablature of the giant Corinthian order of coupled columns fronting the main-floor loggia: "ACADEMIE IMPERIALE DE MUSIQUE".[16] When the emperor was deposed on 4 September 1870 as a result of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, the government was replaced by the Third Republic, and almost immediately, on 17 September 1870, the Opera was renamed Th tre National de l'Op ra, a name it kept until 1939.[17] In spite of this, when it came time to change the name on the new opera house, only the first six letters of the word IMPERIALE were replaced, giving the now famous "ACADEMIE NATIONALE DE MUSIQUE", an official title which had actually only been used during the approximately two-year period of the Second Republic which had preceded the Second Empire.[17]

1870 1871

All work on the building came to a halt during the Franco-Prussian War due to the siege of Paris (September 1870 January 1871). Construction was far enough along that portions of the building could be used as a food warehouse and a hospital. After France's defeat Garnier became seriously ill from the deprivations of the siege and left Paris from March to June to recover on the Ligurian coast of Italy, while his assistant Louis Louvet remained behind during the turmoil of the Paris Commune which followed. Louvet wrote several letters to Garnier, which document events relating to the building. Because of the theatre's proximity to the fighting at the Place Vend me, troops of the National Guard bivouacked there and were in charge of its defense and distributing food to soldiers and civilians. The Commune authorities planned to replace Garnier with another architect, but this unnamed man had not yet appeared when Republican troops ousted the National Guard and gained control over the building on 23 May. By the end of the month the Commune had been severely defeated. The Third Republic had become sufficiently well established by the fall, that on 30 September construction work recommenced, and by late October a small amount of funds were voted by the new legislature for further construction.[18]

1872 1873

The political leaders of the new government maintained an intense dislike of all things associated with the Second Empire, and many of them regarded the essentially apolitical Garnier as a holdover from that regime. This was especially true during the presidency of Adolphe Thiers who remained in office until May 1873, but also persisted under his successor Marshal MacMahon. Economies were demanded, and Garnier was forced to suppress the completion of sections of the building, in particular the Pavillon de l'Empereur (which later became the home of the Opera Library Museum). However, on 28 29 October an overwhelming incentive to complete the new theatre came when the Salle Le Peletier, which had been the chief venue of the Paris Opera and Ballet since 1821, was destroyed by a fire which raged the entire night.[19]


During 1874 Garnier and his construction team worked feverishly to complete the new house, and by 17 October the orchestra was able to conduct an acoustical test of the new auditorium, followed by another on 2 December which was attended by officials, guests, and members of the press. The Paris Opera Ballet danced on the stage on 12 December, and six days later the famous chandelier was lit for the first time.[20] The theatre was formally inaugurated on 5 January 1875 with a lavish gala performance. The program included the overtures to Auber's La muette de Portici and Rossini's Guillaume Tell, the first two acts of Hal vy's 1835 opera La Juive, along with "The Consecration of the Swords" from Meyerbeer's 1836 opera Les Huguenots and the 1866 ballet La source with music by Delibes and Minkus.[21]

The chandelier

Auditorium chandelier

The 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier. Jules Corboz prepared the model, and it was cast and chased by Lacari re, Delatour & Cie. The total cost came to 30,000 gold francs. The use of a central chandelier aroused controversy, and it was criticized for obstructing views of the stage by patrons in the fourth level boxes and views of the ceiling painted by Eug ne Lenepveu.[22] Garnier had anticipated these disadvantages but provided a lively defense in his 1871 book Le Th tre: "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?"[23]

On 20 May 1896, the falling of one of the counterweights for the grand chandelier resulted in the death of one member of the audience. This incident inspired one of the more famous scenes in Gaston Leroux's classic 1911 gothic novel The Phantom of the Opera.[22]

Originally the chandelier was raised up through the ceiling into the cupola over the auditorium for cleaning, but now it is lowered. The space in the cupola was used in the 1960s for opera rehearsals, and in the 1980s was remodeled into two floors of dance rehearsal space. The lower floor consists of the Salle Nure ev (Nureyev) and the Salle Balanchine, and the upper floor, the Salle Petipa.[22]

Recent history of the house

L'Op ra Restaurant opens in 2011
L'Op ra Restaurant opens in 2011
In 1969, the theatre was given new electrical facilities and, during 1978, part of the original Foyer de la Danse was converted into new rehearsal space for the Ballet company by the architect Jean-Loup Roubert.

During 1994, restoration work began on the theatre. This consisted of modernizing the stage machinery and electrical facilities, while restoring and preserving the opulent d cor, as well as strengthening the structure and foundation of the building. This restoration was completed in 2007.

After three attempts since 1875, a restaurant opened its doors on the eastern facade of the building in 2011. It was designed by French architect Odile Decq. The chef is Christophe Aribert.[24]

Architecture and style

The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Foyer
The Grand Foyer
The Palais Garnier is a building of exceptional opulence. The style is monumental and considered typically Beaux-Arts, with use of axial symmetry in plan, and its exterior ornamentation. Its audience sits under a central chandelier which weighs more than six tons, and it has a huge stage with room to accommodate as many as 450 artists.

It is decorated with very elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology. Gilded galvanoplastic bronze busts of many of the great composers are located between the columns of the theatre's front fa ade and depict from left to right: Rossini, Auber, Beethoven, Mozart, Spontini, Meyerbeer, and Hal vy. On the left and right lateral returns of the front facade are busts of the librettists Eug ne Scribe and Philippe Quinault, respectively.[25]

The sculptural group Apollo, Poetry, and Music, located at the apex of the south gable of the stage flytower, is the work of Aim Millet, and the two smaller bronze Pegasus figures at either end of the south gable are by Eug ne-Louis Lequesne. The two gilded figural groups Harmony and Poetry, which respectively crown the apexes of the principal facade's left and right avant-corps, were both designed by Charles Gumery. The bases of the two avant-corps are decorated (from left to right) with four major multifigure groups sculpted by: Fran ois Jouffroy (Harmony),[26] Jean-Baptiste Claude Eug ne Guillaume (Instrumental Music), Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (The Dance, criticized for indecency), and Jean-Joseph Perraud (Lyrical Drama). The facade also incorporates other work by Gumery, Alexandre Falgui re, and others.[25]

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

The ceiling area, which surrounds the chandelier, contains a new 1964 painting by Marc Chagall which was installed on a removable frame over the original and depicts scenes from operas by 14 composers – Moussorgsky, 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."[27]

Influence abroad

The building became one of the most inspirational architectural prototypes for the following thirty years.

Several buildings in Poland were based on the design of the Palais Garnier. these include the Juliusz S owacki Theatre in Krak w, built during 1893, The Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Lviv, built between 1897 and 1900, and also the Warsaw Philharmony edifice in Warsaw, built between 1900 and 1901.

In the Ukraine, the influence of the Palais Garnier can be seen at the National Opera House of Ukraine in Kiev, built in 1901.

The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is modelled after the Palais Garnier, most notably the facade and Great Hall.[28]

The Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (1909) was also modeled after Palais Garnier, particularly and Great Hall and stairs.

The Amazon Theatre in Manaus (Brazil) built from 1884 to 1896. The overview is very similar, though the decoration is more simple.

The Hanoi Opera House in Vietnam is considered to be a typical French colonial architectural monument in Vietnam, and it is also a small-scale replica of the Palais Garnier. The Saigon Opera House is a smaller counterpart.

File:Krakow 71.jpg|Side view of the Juliusz Slowacki Theater File:Filharmonia Warszawska oko o 1901.PNG|Warsaw Philharmony File:Hanoi_Oper.jpg|Hanoi Opera House File:WarsawFilharmonia.jpg|Warsaw Philharmony circa 1900 File:Lw w opera projekt elewacji bocznej 1896.png|Maquette of the Lviv Theatre File:Kiev Opera House - 005.jpg|National Opera House of Ukraine File:LibraryOfCongress 07130009.jpg|The Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress File:Teatro amazonas.jpg|The Amazonas theater in Manaus, Brazil File:Teatro municipal rio de janeiro.jpg|Municipal theater of Rio de Janeiro File:SaoPauloMunicipalTheatre1.jpg|Municipal Theater of S o Paulo

See also

Image gallery

Image:Paris Opera -circa 1900.jpg|The Palais Garnier as seen circa 1900 File:Paris - Inaugurition de l'Op ra 1875.jpg|The Inauguration ceremony held at the Grand Escalier, 1875 Image:PhotoB_062.jpg|Apollo, Poetry and Music roof sculpture by Aim Millet Image:Apollon opera Garnier.jpg|Apollo, Poetry and Music; Apollo's lyre detail Image:Right roof sculptures Paris Opera.jpg|Poetry roof sculpture by Charles Gumery Image:Lyrical drama Perraud.jpg|Lyrical Drama fa ade sculpture by Jean-Joseph Perraud Image:Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux La Danse.jpg|The Dance by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux Image:PhotoB_064.jpg|Bronze busts of Beethoven and Mozart on the front fa ade Image:Le grand foyer-2.jpg|The Grand Foyer Image:Palais garnier def.jpg|Detail of the north facade (administration) Image:PG142.jpg|Marc Chagall's ceiling, repainted in a modern style and which is very different from the colour scheme of the rest of the building. At the center is the grand chandelier Image:Terrasse Est Op ra Garnier - L'Op ra Restaurant.jpg|Palais Garnier east side with L'Op ra Restaurant



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    • Vol. 2, plates (1880). Partie architecturale, 60 plates. .
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    • [Vol. 4] (1875). Statues d coratives, 35 plates. . View at Wikimedia Commons.
    • [Vol. 5] (1875). Peintures d coratives, 20 plates. .
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  • Scott, Pamela; Lee, Antoinette J. (1993). Buildings of the District of Columbia. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506146-8.
  • Simeone, Nigel (2000). Paris: A Musical Gazetteer. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08053-7.
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  • Zeitz, Karyl Lynn (1991). Opera: the Guide to Western Europe's Great Houses. Santa Fe, New Mexico: John Muir Publications. ISBN 978-0-945465-81-2.

External links

ar: az:Qarnye Saray bn: bo: bg: ca: pera Garnier cs:Op ra Garnier da:Op ra Garnier de:Op ra Garnier es: pera Garnier eo:Operejo Garnier eu:Op ra Garnier fa: fr:Op ra Garnier gl: pera Garnier ko: io:Opereyo Garnier id:Palais Garnier it:Op ra Garnier he: ka: lb:Garnier Operenhaus mk: ms:Palais Garnier nl:Op ra Garnier ja: pl:Op ra Garnier pt: pera Garnier ro:Op ra Garnier ru: sk:Palais Garnier sr: fi:Palais Garnier sv:L'Op ra Garnier th: tr:Palais Garnier uk: vi:Nh h t Op ra Garnier zh:

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