The Opéra Garnier, most well known as the National Opera of Paris, is a theatrical and architectural work of art. The Opéra aims to be an academy of music, choreography and lyric poetry; it is a major element of the heritage of the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III.The Opéra Garnier is are representative of the Napoleon III style, unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.
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.” The building has had such an impact on French culture that it has been used in many movies, and perhaps most famously, as the setting in The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.
The inside of the Palais Garnier is exquisite with a grand staircase, foyer, and auditorium. Both the Grand Foyer and Grand Staircase are made from marble with heavy ornamentation and sculpture. Many of the alcoves in the Grand Foyer feature sculptures of nymphs and Greek gods. Many famous artists painted the ceiling of the Grand Foyer. The Grand Staircase is made from white marble, onyx, green marble, and red marble. Thirty hand-carved marble columns surround the stunning staircase. The auditorium is where the shows take place; a 14,000-pound bronze and glass chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling.
The opulent and ostentatious design corresponds to the period of the Second Empire. The interiors contain large amounts of gold and velvet. The communication parts of the building, including the staircases and promenade spaces are of very high quality. The opera holds 2,200 spectators, the audience sits centered around a hanging chandelier, weighing over six tons, and the large stage was built to accommodate up to 450 artists. It is opulently decorated with marble friezes, columns, and statuary, many of which are used to portray deities from Greek mythology.
One of the major urban implications of the Paris Opera is it’s location at the northern end of Avenue de l’Opera in France. It’s role as the terminal axial point suggests that as a public space, it should hold much importance in the community. The Paris Opera was meant to be a social gathering space for the people, which is reflected in the interweaving corridors, stairwells, landings and alcoves which allow movement of large masses of people while also permitting socializing during intermission.
The Palais Garnier also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum), which is managed by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.
Architecture and style
The Palais Garnier is an exquisite opera house in the heart of Paris, the buliding is of the Neo-Baroque style, a term used to describe architecture that encompasses the key characteristics of Baroque style. The monumental style can also be classified as Beaux-Arts, with its use of axial symmetry in plan, and its exterior ornamentation.
Palais Garnier used characteristics of the Baroque period and included vaulted ceilings, buttresses, ornate wall carvings, archways, the use of stone, and illusion. In architecture, architects can create optical illusions by making a hallways appear longer than it is or the curvature of a wall can be made to give a building a much larger appearance.
The opera was constructed in what Charles Garnier (1825-1898) is said to have told the Empress Eugenie was “Napoleon III” style The Napoleon III style was highly eclectic, and borrowed from many historical sources; the opera house included elements from the Baroque, the classicism of Palladio, and Renaissance architecture blended together. These were combined with axial symmetry and modern techniques and materials, including the use of an iron framework, which had been pioneered in other Napoleon III buildings, including the Bibliotheque Nationale and the markets of Les Halles.
The façade and the interior followed the Napoleon III style principle of leaving no space without decoration. Garnier used polychromy, or a variety of colors, for theatrical effect, achieved different varieties of marble and stone, porphyry, and gilded bronze. The façade of the Opera used seventeen different kinds of material, arranged in very elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology.
In addition to being influenced by Neo-Baroque architecture, the Palais Garnier was heavily influenced by the Second Empire Beaux-Arts. Second Empire Beaux-Arts was marked by heavy ornamentation, sculptures, and symmetry that makes the building look the same from all angles. The building is made of stone and iron. The exterior façade of the building is loaded with decorative ornamentation in the forms of sculptures, carvings, and columns. On the front face between each column is a sculpture of a famous composer including, Beethoven, Rossini, Auber, Mozart, Spontini, Halévy, and Meyerbeer. Many of the carvings along the building were inspired by Greek mythology with references to Apollo and many other gods. The Palais Garnier is a wonder to look at.
South main facade
The large facade, overlooking the Place de l’Opéra and located at the crossroads of many Haussmann breakthroughs, serves as a backdrop to the perspective of the avenue which will be opened a little later. It constitutes, in a way, the manifesto of the artist. Its skilful layout and proportions, like its rich polychromy, express, in a skilful synthesis, the very essence of eclectic architecture.
The steps and the covered gallery with arcades and flat domes on pendentives supporting the loggia form the starting point, from the main south entrance, of an initiatory journey whose culmination is none other than the large hall and the show which sticks to it. The loggia, underlined by the portico on the first floor, is presented as an extension of the large foyer overlooking the Place de l’Opéra. Little used, it is however essential to the balance of the plan as well as that of the frontal and lateral elevations. This loggia is directly inspired by the masters of the Italian Renaissance. As for the pronounced taste for polychromy, it is the expression of a fashion triggered by archaeological research by the Grands Prix de Rome in the 19th century Académie des beaux -arts.
West side facade
The entrance is indicated by a series of green marble columns, two of which are surmounted by a large bronze imperial eagle, a symbol miraculously preserved after the Second Empire. The entrance was intended for Napoleon III and his relatives only. Designed so that Napoleon III and his retinue could enter directly into the building and thus limit the risk of attack, the Emperor’s pavilion communicates directly with a front-stage box on the garden side. This part flanking the west facade of the Opera was never completed: still to this day, several unspread stonework testify to the sudden interruption of the construction site.
When the architect Garnier died in 1898, it was decided to erect a small monument in his memory and to his glory, which was inaugurated in 1903. This sculpted ensemble is placed on a stone plinth supporting a large rectangular metal cartridge, the carving of which represents, in hollow and gilded with leaf, the plane of the main level of the opera.
East side facade
The entrance is preceded, like the one to the west, by a series of green marble columns. Only several full-length female figures, bronze flare holders. Forming the counterpart of the Emperor’s pavilion, the subscribers’ pavilion is opened by seven semicircular arches giving access to the covered descent, a vast rotunda covered with a dome 14 m in diameter. Two pairs of obelisks mark the north and south entrances to the rotunda. This ground floor led directly to the rotunda of subscribers, and some other premises reserved for them. They could then pass in front of the Bassin de la Pythie to reach the main staircase, like the rest of the public.
A paved courtyard, surrounded by a circular wall, incorporates a monumental portal with a sculpted tympanum, as well as two other portals and two secondary doors made of ironwork. The service entrances are at the rear of the building. The imposing set, on the north side, is made up of parts with various shapes and reliefs as well as two other parts, to the east and west, articulated in return on the sides of the stage cage and up to to the two side pavilions.
This facade of a sober classic style is less decorated than the spectacular main facade but the architect directed the ornamentation on the roofs of the five blocks including the two avant-corps, oriented to the north, which present, symmetrically, about twenty chimney stacks (totaling 150 flues) adorned with strange allegorical masks formerly surmounted by crownings in copper cast iron.
The pediment of the stage cage has a main member: a large arcade (of the same size as the stage frame) which is topped by one of the largest ornamental sculptures in the palace, a bust of Minerva.five meters high, lined with palm leaves, which surmounts a large bay lined with abutments adorned with the masks of comedy and tragedy. This north facade includes a row of grilled bull’s eye windows in copper cast iron or covered with a decoration of mosaic lyres, above a series of barbicans which are at the level of the third and fourth service walkways in the hangers.
This part of the building, called the Administration, houses the offices, the dressing rooms of the artists, utility stores, workshops spread over eight levels.
The central rear body includes, up to the seventh level: the multi-storey premises of the choir rehearsal room, the dressing room for the male extras (formerly called sidekicks), the Foyer de la danse, the store on two levels called the central -suits (the original joinery, in pitch pine, is the subject of a protected classification) lined with workshops for seamstresses and tailors. Two interior courtyards are perpendicular to the back wall of the stage. In the entrance courtyard, the high scenery door opens onto a freight elevator with a capacity of eleven tons that can accommodate scenery twelve meters long, delivered to the fourth level, on the stage floor.
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 (44-ft) diameter dome. Paired obelisks mark the entrances to the rotunda on the north and the south.
The Belt of Light
The exterior of the opera house is surrounded by sixty various luminaries, which operated on gas until 1954. The set includes: streetlights, caryatids (day and night, depending on their position on the east and west side facades, sculpted by Louis-Félix Chabaud), the candelabra, the pyramidal columns in peach blossom marble, the rostral columns and the imperial columns in blue turquin marble.
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.
Once past the subscribers’ rotunda, the Bassin de la Pythie leads to the grand staircase and the sumptuous nave thirty meters high. This nave, built in marble of various colors, houses the steps of the double spiral staircase which leads to the foyers and to the different floors of the performance hall. At the bottom of the stairs, a real theater within the theater, two female allegories holding bouquets of light welcome the spectators.
The steps and the gallery of the main entrance lead the spectators to a first barrel-vaulted vestibule. Four large stone sculptures immediately catch the eye. In the effigy of great composers of the 17th and 18th centuries, they represent on a larger than life scale and, from left to right, Rameau, Lully, Gluck and Handel in a seated position (each representing the music of a country: France, Italy, Germany and Great Britain).
The place provides ticketing for the public not belonging to the circle of subscribers. The wickets, framed by pilasters and backsplash engaged columns and each surmounted by a sculpted pediment, were designed by Garnier himself. The vestibule also houses a small shop, recently made, both a bookshop and a place to sell souvenirs. This interior gallery then leads, after climbing a few steps, to the Vestibule du Contrôle and then to the grand staircase.
Vestibule du Contrôle
Buffer space between the large vestibule and the main staircase and separated from them by wide steps including only a few steps, it allows the filtering of the entrances before the spectators, provided with their tickets, can access the large hall and representation.
Circular vestibule known as Rotonde of subscribers
Charles Garnier’s name is hidden in the ornamentation on the ceiling of the circular vestibule. Charles Garnier signed his work in the central medallion of the vault forming the ceiling of this room in the form of arabesques where one manages to read: “JEAN LOUIS CHARLES GARNIER ARCHITECTE 1861-1875”.
At the same level, at the foot of the Grand Staircase, we find the basin or fountain of La Pythie where a jet of water once formed a misty veil through which we could see the statue of the Pythia, oracle of the temple of Apollo, a work sculpted by “Marcello”, artist name of Adèle d’Affry, Duchess of Castiglione-Colonna. There are also caryatids in polychrome marble due to the chisel of Jules Thomas.
The Rotunda of the Glacier
At the end of a long gallery is the rotunda of the glacier, a fresh and luminous rotunda decorated with a ceiling painted by Clairin (1843-1919) depicting a round of bacchantes and fauns, completed with tapestry cartoons illustrating various refreshments as well as fishing and hunting. Completed after the opening of the Palais Garnier, this salon evokes the aesthetics of the Belle Époque.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a bell, installed in all the boxes of the performance hall, made it possible to have the drinks ordered served directly there. Place of distribution of refreshments, it is characterized by its luminosity and its ceiling painted by Georges Jules-Victor Clairin, a round of bacchanalia and fauns. All around is arranged, between the windows, a series of eight tapestries from cartoons painted by Alexis Joseph Mazerolle. These works represent the various drinks that can be ordered: “champagne”, “coffee”, “tea”, “orangeade” and other beverages, but also “fishing” and “hunting”. Completed well after the opening of the Opera, the rotunda approaches the style specific to the “Belle Époque” or the “1900s”.
Forecourt or foyer of the Mosaics
The vault of avant-foyer is covered with mosaics on a shimmering gold background. Places for strolling and meeting between the spectators before each performance or at the time of intermissions, the foyers are vast and the rich decoration does not leave the slightest square centimeter unused. The mosaic is omnipresent, especially in the avant-foyer, a space of transition between the void of the grand staircase and the grand foyer. The barrel vault of the avant-foyer is covered with tesserae with delicate implementation and brilliant colors, all placed on a gold leaf background. A bird’s eye view of the grand staircase adorns the premises.
The view of the nave from the grand staircase is spectacular. In the big hearth,the interplay of mirrors and windows further accentuates its vast dimensions. The ceiling painted by Paul Baudry (1828-1886) features themes from the history of music. The lyre is the main element: it reigns over all the decorative vocabulary, on the capitals as well as on the heating grids or the door handles. A copy of the bust of Charles Garnier by the sculptor Carpeaux (1827-1875) is in the center of the foyer, near one of the windows where you can see the perspective of the avenue de l’Opéra as far as the Louvre, to contemplate more largely from the loggia. The sun and moon lounges offer a symbolic and poetic transition to the other spaces.
Grand foyer and its lounges
This hall, 18 metres (59 ft) high, 154 metres (505 ft) long and 13 metres (43 ft) 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 onto an outside loggia and is flanked by two octagonal salons with ceilings painted by Jules-Élie Delaunay in the eastern salon and Félix-Joseph Barrias in the western salon. The octagonal salons open to the north into the Salon de la Lune at the western end of the Avant-Foyer and the Salon du Soleil at its eastern end.
The design of the Grand Foyer was inspired by the layouts and decorative inspiration of the galleries of French Renaissance castles of the 16th century (Château de Fontainebleau) and the 17th century (Galerie d’Apollon at the Louvre, Galerie des Glaces in Versailles). A skilful play of mirrors and windows opening onto the streets and facadessurroundings further accentuate its vast dimensions. This place was originally thought of as a meeting point for spectators of all social categories.
Comprising five bays, the large foyer is embellished on either side with a living room. On the side of the avant-foyer, three large openings give access to the circulations which lead to the galleries of the grand staircase, then to the room. The foyer opens onto an outdoor loggia and is flanked by two octagonal salons with ceilings painted by Jules-Élie Delaunay in the eastern salon and Félix-Joseph Barrias in the western salon. The octagonal salons open to the north into the Salon de la Lune at the western end of the Avant-Foyer and the Salon du Soleil at its eastern end. On either side of the axial door, large mirrors, with a height approaching six meters, rise from the parquetand paneling. On the other side, five large French windows constitute the pendants and indicate the access to the loggia.
On the walls are twenty elegant statues, allegories of the “Qualities” essential to artists of the lyrical and choreographic arts. A vaulted ceiling, painted by Paul Baudry, depicts the major stages in the history of Music, Comedy and Tragedy and presents several aspects of their own theme. The lyre forms, as in many exterior and interior places of the building including the auditorium, a favorite decorative element punctuating, in an almost systematic way, different moldings, capitals, heating grilles and door handles.
Moon and Sun Lounges
Placed at the east and west ends of the avant-foyer, two modestly sized rotundas were painted by decorators Philippe Marie Chaperon and Auguste Alfred Rubé, friends of Garnier. Over the vaults of the Salon de la Lune and the Salon du Soleil dominate, in one, the cold tones of silver, with representations of night birds (owls and bats) and, in the other, the warm tones of gold, in the middle of a decor of salamanders. Tin- plated mirrors, the former cold in color and the latter predominantly warm, respectively cover their walls and are reflected ad infinitum to form “paths of light”.
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. The work is remarkable for its layout, the height and the volume of its nave which had never been seen before, the magnificence of its interior facades and the variety of materials used (marble in subtle colors, onyx and copper of the handrails, innumerable paintings, mosaics and gilding). The breadth and ingenuity of its layouts and its decoration have made this grand staircase one of the most celebrated and appreciated places in the Palais Garnier.
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.
At the foot of the stairway, two bronze torchiere statues by Albert – Ernest Carrier de Belleuse (known as Carrier-Belleuse) represent female figures holding gas and then electric lighting. The staircase is in white marble and its steps are divided into several degrees with wide and impressive slender flights with refined curvatures. The steps of the grand staircase, which go from concave to convex, are in white Seravezza marble; only one of them is straight. They thus marry the curvature of the onyx balustrade, whose base is in green marble from Sweden and the 128 balusters in antique red marble.
The first flight of this grand staircase leads to the hallway leading to the amphitheater, the parterre, the orchestra and the dressing rooms-baths. The following flights give access to other corridors and to the small balconies on the four interior facades with twin columns and three bays of arcades, then to the various lounges and foyers. On both sides, there are, starting from the ground floor, very wide staircases which lead to the circular corridors leading to the boxes of all the different levels of the theater. In their center are elevators.
The ceiling is made up of four arches, on mounted canvas, by the painter Isidore Alexandre-Auguste Pils, Grand Prix de Rome in 1838: to the north, The Triumph of Apollo, to the south, The Charm of Music, to the west The city of Paris receiving the plans for the new Opera, and finally to the east Minerva fighting brute force before the united Olympus. These works are lit by the canopy of a lantern completing the composition.
Located above the vault of the circular vestibule, the auditorium is the very heart of the palace. 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. Marrying a horseshoe shape, with its four balconies, its boxes and its stalls on five levels, the place is designed according to the model of the Italian theater where the visibility is variable.
In the tradition of Italian-style theatres, the horseshoe-shaped auditorium known as the French, due to the arrangement of seats according to their category, was designed to see and be seen. Its metal structure, masked by marble, stucco, velvet and gilding, supports the 8 tons that the bronze and crystal chandelier weighs, equipped with 340 lights.
Its dimensional characteristics are impressive: nearly thirty-one meters wide, thirty-two meters deep and twenty meters high. Its gauge is approaching two thousand seats, with just over one thousand nine hundred seats. This place is dressed in dominant tones of ochres, reds and golds. Vast mosaic-covered corridors provide access to the five levels through mahogany doors fitted with a porthole.
The stage curtain was created by the theater painters and decorators Auguste Rubé (1817-1899) and Philippe Chaperon (1823-1906), according to the instructions of Charles Garnier. The curtain was replaced identically in 1951 and then in 1996. The ceiling painted by Marc Chagall and commissioned by the Minister of Culture André Malraux was inaugurated on September 23, 1964.
The fourteen rows of seats in the orchestra are located on either side of a central aisle, the armchairs are in black wood and upholstered in velvet, their padded backrest is covered with an elegant numbered bronze easel. On this level are the dressing rooms on the ground floor, the baths. The grand organ was built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll for use during lyrical works. It has been out of service for several decades.
In eight rows, the seats, identical to the previous ones, are clearly overhanging those of the orchestra. They not only benefit from a very clear view of the scene, but they are also at the ideal location where the main axis is located, the “point of view”, from which the decorator draws the cutting plans and vanishing lines to establish the picture of the decor that it establishes. Then, other lines are used in the very high, lateral seats and the first row of orchestra, according to the different rules of scenographic perspective. The privileged spectators of the balcony can see a decor and a staging as they were thought by the team of creators.
The boxes and back rooms as well as their seats and benches are dressed in velvet and their partitions in damask and drapes. All upholstery features a subtle interplay of crimson shades. The most famous and mysterious lodge has a front door where there is (since 2011) a bronze plaque reading “Lodge of the Phantom of the Opera”; it is located at the level of the first lodges. This famous box is number 5. The proscenium boxes overlook the orchestra pit in the doubleau arch forming the stage frame.
For centuries, it was customary to have ten dressing rooms directly on the stage, both for the authors and composers and for the other participants in the show. These locations are used to improve access to the projectors and portcullis arranged on the lighting bridge fixed to the rear of the metal valance, part of the mobile frame.
The fourth side boxes are stalls, surmounted at the rear by tiered armchairs. From the front, it is the amphitheater or more familiarly the chicken coop or paradise. The fifth boxes, front and side, for less than eighty spectators are places with extremely reduced visibility. In the past, some of these so-called blind places were mainly intended for listeners: music lovers, composers, students of the Conservatory who could follow the music and the singing with or without a score. Some of these dressing rooms are fitted out for cinematographic projections and also the tracking projectors which make it possible to precisely follow an evolving artist on the stage.
The two domes of the ceiling
The first dome of the ceiling of the great hall is due to the brushwork of Napoleon III ‘s favorite painter, Jules-Eugène Lenepveu. It was restored twice during the first half of the 20th century. This original painting has 63 figures representing The Muses and the hours of day and night, made on twenty-four copper panels, bolted to the steel structure of the upper floor.
The second dome was designed by Marc Chagall at the invitation of his friend André Malraux, then Minister of Cultural Affairs. The new ceiling evokes, in five brightly colored parts, the major milestones and works representative of the history of the arts of opera and dance as well as fourteen outstanding composers of the lyrical and choreographic arts of the repertoire. Composed of twelve side panels and a circular central panel, it is designed like an Olympe. The main panel is “divided into five zones in which a dominant color unites in the same evocation two works by two different composers, while the complementary colors allow transitions and the interpenetration of motifs”.
The Great Chandelier
In gilded bronze with a myriad of cut crystals, the cage of the chandelier is five meters high, its diameter is four meters. From its base to the intrados of the arch, including the powerful steel cables, it rises eight meters. Its mass is 6.5 tons. It was installed and tuned in 1874 with 340 gas – powered burners. Partially electrified in 1881, it then carried 320 light bulbs, most of which were nestled in opaline globes. A festoon of pendants surrounds it, raised from place to place by lyre-shaped motifs. The drawing is by Charles Garnier and the cast was made in the workshops of Lacarrière and Delatour. It was restored in 1989.
The entablature of the hall’s ceiling has a crowning of lights formed by two hundred and fifty frosted glass globes, the pearl necklace, surmounting the diamond belt, composed of four series of fifteen round lanterns and four faceted oval lanterns. These three hundred and fourteen sources of light were able to benefit, at the time of gas lighting, from an ingenious direct and individual evacuation of the heat and vapors produced by this energy.
The orchestra pit
Musicians can easily perform there in a large symphony orchestra. This orchestra pit can, if necessary, be covered with a movable floor which then transforms the proscenium into a vast proscenium used for recitals and concerts. Part of its projection in the room was reduced when the proscenium partition was opened, allowing a significant enlargement of its surface by the removal of the three central cubicles (blower hole, lighting technician, lead vocalist) and of the lighting ramp. These modifications bring its current size to about eighteen meters in length and nine meters in width, including four under the proscenium at different levels of height.
This is the projection visible to the public, in front of the closed stage curtain. Its depth is slightly convex towards the orchestra pit. It had once been bordered by a lighting ramp, in the center of which were located three facilities: a hole for the prompter and lead vocalist, another for the stage manager and that of the lighting manager who ordered his team to change lights by means of the system made up of several hundred gas taps and pipes, called the lighting organ set in allusion to the musical instrument comprising a forest of metal pipes. This ramp was electrified as soon as incandescent bulbs appeared. Today, the lighting control room and its electronic consoles are located in the auditorium behind the third front boxes.
The stage frame and the curtain
The stage frame is approximately sixteen meters in width and fourteen meters in height. The stage curtain was painted in trompe-l’oeil in 1874 by Auguste Rubé and Philippe Chaperon, also signatories of the lambrequin. It prepares the spectator’s gaze for the illusion of what essentially any theatrical performance is, its heavy drapery of red velvet embellished with golden trimmings is surmounted by the imposing metal lambrequin presenting, in its center, a cartouche. This painted curtain, 14.50 m by 17.50 m, was redone identically on linen canvas in 1952 by the painter-decorator Emile Bertin and restored in 1996 by the painter-decorator Silvano Mattei
The Foyer de la Danse
At the back of the stage, in what is called the “antechamber”, you will find the Foyer de la Danse with its strikingly beautiful chandelier and its magnificent paintings. The Foyer de la Danse used to be a meeting area for privileged members to be introduced to artists ; nowadays, ballet dancers still use this space to rehearse and warm up before coming on stage.
It is a work space for the artists of the corps de ballet; its ornamentation, almost as refined as that of the spaces reserved for the public, makes it a dance sanctuary. The side walls are punctuated by twelve columns, fluted in a spiral, in the center of which are two semicircular windows facing each other. The front wall is mainly open by a large window which is the only access. The back wall is entirely covered with a mirror in three parts, the glassmaker Saint-Gobain not having been able, at the time, to cast such a large pane in one piece. The 160 m2 floor is inclined, identical to the stage, towards the back wall. Ballet bars, mounted on elegant bronzed cast iron brackets, are on all three sides. Four panels three meters high adorn the two walls, they were painted by Gustave Boulanger and represent.
The abundant decoration is surmounted by the high projecting arch where are the medallion portraits in memory of twenty famous dancers whose names and dates are inscribed, Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Marie Sallé, etc. This arch, bordered by twenty gilded statues of musical angels, works of Chabaud, is topped with a celestial ceiling, ten meters from the ground, where a multitude of birds frolic. This room is lit by a large bronze and crystal chandelier, as well as by several candelabra on the columns joined in the corners. The sides are equipped with velvet benches for breaks. A piano is always present to accompany exercises or rehearsals.
The dressing rooms of the artists
There are about 80 individual boxes and collective boxes of all sizes, which can accommodate up to five hundred artists. They are spread over several floors, their windows opening onto interior courtyards, onto Place Diaghilev and back onto Rue Scribe and Rue Gluck, up to the two pavilions housing the library and the Rotunda du Glacier. The choir/ladies’ box and the choir/men’s box both measure more than 290 m2 and are both located on the Rue Gluck side.
There is a set of individual grand boxes for the stars or stars, such as that of the soprano singer Fanny Heldy, decorated in Empire style and bearing the no.45, near the stage. Located on the garden side, it is currently reserved for conductors. The male figuration is housed on the second entresol, under the Dance foyer; the female figure is on the third floor; locker rooms on the mezzanine are for the musicians.
For choreography, there are about ten rooms in addition to the dance hall: the circular studio (160 m 2) Zambelli is installed under the dome of the Library-Museum. In 1957, the chief architect Pierre-Henri Bailleau had removed the upper part of the chandelier chimney, in order to install a rehearsal room under the central metal dome, overlooking the entire performance hall. Under the impetus of dance director Rudolf Nureyev and architect Jean-Loup Roubert, the Bailleau rotunda, 17 meters high, has been divided in height: on the lower level are the Lifar studio and the Nureyev studio, with a surface area of 220 m2 each, lit by a row of bull’s eye windows. The Petipa studio (400 m2), covered by the metal structures of the large dome, is on the upper level.
Rehearsal room is a vast rehearsal room with columns and six windows, for the artists of the choir, is directly below the Foyer de la Danse in the heart of the rear part of the theatre, on the ground floor. The Foyer du Chant, or Messager studio, in woodwork and soberly decorated with portraits of opera singers, is a large room on the stage floor, its windows open onto rue Scribe and place Diaghilev.
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 restaurant, which has three different spaces and a large outside terrace, is accessible to the general public.
The water tank
In the fifth basement of the Opera hides a mysterious lake remains one of the palace’s best-kept secrets. Underneath the stage, closest to the building’s foundations, you will find the water tank which is located beneath the edifice and which gave birth to many myths and legends about the Palais Garnier and its construction. An artificial lake. The latter is even essential to the building; during the construction of the Opera, the fragile soil and water infiltration posed a major problem, and the idea of a large watertight tank germinated.
The secret passages
Originally, two main passages made up the network of secret passages of the Opera. Coming from the basements, they crossed the Grand Foyer to emerge on the fourth floor in a space called “skating”, in reference to the slides performed by the little opera rats. Today, one of these arteries is still passable but the other is occupied by a downspout.
The cabestans room
Fifteen meters below the stage, the cabestans room brings you to the heart of the machinery of a 19th century Parisian theater. Here, you will discover the mechanisms that were used to make performers and sets appear on stage.
Library-Museum of the Opera
The collections of the Library-Museum of the Opera (National Library of France) preserve the memory of the theater for three centuries. The gallery of the museum presents permanently, paintings, drawings, photographs and models of decorations in volume. After the fall of the Empire, the premises were never finished: on the stairs leading to the temporary exhibition hall, there remains the massive apparatus of stone blocks as it was in 1870. Access to the reading room, installed in the rotunda of the emperor, is reserved for researchers.
Orchestra Gallery, Grand Vestibule
The orchestra gallery offers a last look at the Palais Garnier and offers an audiovisual document relating its history. The large vestibule with statues of the four composers Rameau, Lulli, Gluck and Handel, leads to the exit.
Roofs and copings
The large central dome is covered with copper which, when oxidized, takes on a green color. Formerly, the domes of the two pavilions were also covered in the same way, today they are made of zinc, like the other roofs of the building. Some decorations of the domes covering the two side pavilions are made of lead. The lantern of the large dome is in repoussé copper, gilded.
The facade is surmounted by the Renowns, two groups made by Charles Gumery, the Harmony (on the left) and La Poésie (on the right). These statues, 7.50 meters high, have been restored and their internal structure, made of iron, has been replaced by stainless steel. Their original gilding had been carried out by electroplating in the workshops of the Christofle goldsmith’s business.
The entablature of the attic is crowned with a cast iron frieze painted with gilded varnish, a series of masks alternating with garlands, the work of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste-Jules Klagmann. The pediment of the stage cage is decorated with two parapets(east and west) identical, La Renommée retaining Pégase (by Eugène-Louis Lequesne), while the top receives the set formed by Apollo crowning Poetry and Music, by Aimé Millet. This group, 7.50 m high and weighing thirteen tonnes, acts as a lightning rod; it is in natural bronze, only the lyre being gilded; it was sculpted directly on site by Millet, then produced in six months in 1869 by the Denière workshop, and finally assembled in two months at the top of the Opera in 1870.
The Restoration works
Since 1990, the Paris Opera has started a major restoration campaign for the Palais Garnier. The major works carried out on the stage, the auditorium and the main façade, as well as the restoration of the grand foyer and its adjoining rooms, are continuing over several years and are now being extended in an operation to bring the electrical networks up to standard. the building.
In 2000, the facelift followed by a thorough and scientific restoration of the main facade of the opera led the public to reconsider this elevation blackened and damaged by time and to a complete rediscovery of its decor in its original polychromy, its gilding and the variety of materials that make it up, some of which come from distant lands. The golden initials of Napoleon and Eugénie appearing on the medallions surmounting the facade, removed after the fall of the Second Empire, are restored on this occasion.
May 2004, the prestigious decorations imagined by the architect for the grand foyer and inaugurated for the first time on January 5, 1875 regain their lost luster. The French upholsterer Charles Jouffre was entrusted with the restoration of the large curtains and wall hangings of this prestigious building site, new long golden curtains, shimmering with light veins, draped in their sumptuous folds and communicate to the foyer a splendor of good quality.