Categories: InstrumentInterior

Backstage, Palais Garnier

Behind the scenes of the Palais Garnier: a guided tour as part of the project “Let’s go to the Opera!”. The set designers were going to create with the help of the stage managers imagery of such power that they would be featured again and again until the end of the century. At a time when the national novel was being written, theatre knew how to provide the sound box and the sets, its visual version.

Between 1820 and 1830, by giving sets and stage production a new and preponderant role, the theatre embraced the revolution accompanying the development of new genres. From drama at the Comédie-Française, and historic-romantic opera and romantic ballet at the Opera, it was an opportunity to create stage sets which would fill audiences with awe—as Othello, Hernani, Robert le Diable, La Sylphide, Le Prophète, and L’Africaine would all testify…

Thanks to the machinery installed in the flies and under the stage, thanks to the special effects, the gas lighting and soon electricity, and thanks to the great machines foreshadowing the epics, everything was in place for the show to begin. Relying on the interest aroused by History, everyone—from the librettists, the composers, the set designers, not to forget the audience—all shared in the dream of historical truth and local colour. They would copy, they would misappropriate, they would imagine ancient edifices. Some were gothic, others Renaissance and eventually even Rocaille. Just as they revisited the past, now they would turn towards Nature and a mythical Orient.

Stage Cage
This phrase is common to all theaters to define the part of the building that encompasses the scene in all directions, its facilities, its equipment. The stage cage here occupies a volume of 50,000 m3. The architects Soufflot, Gabriel, Louis or Davioud, in constant search of improvement, as much for the theaters as for their stage cages, had not been able to reach such an outcome. Garnier has offered the arts an incomparable and flexible but also very secure stage work tool. He tried, well before the xx th century, to explore the scenographic possibilities of hydraulic machinery and elevator scenes, but gave up on the extraordinarily high cost of designing, monitoring and maintaining this industrial type of equipment. He perfected what had proved his worth: the so-called “Italian-style” machinery.

From the deepest to the top of the stage cage, the useful set reaches a record height of 62.50 meters. Its four walls support, in addition to the tray, complex equipment consisting of undercuts, hangers and grills.

The tray or stage
The stage, the stage, includes the central part, visible from the public and two sides named court and garden that extend from the front to the back (or from the face to the distance according to the usual terminology).

Built in oak planks, with a surface area of 1,395 m2, the plateau is 26.37 m deep and 52.90 m wide, with a slope of 5% from the distance to the face. It consists of fixed lateral parts and a succession of longitudinal moving bands, the planes, of which there are always these elements:

the curb, a groove a few centimeters wide to slide laterally decorative elements fixed with guindas on poles, narrow and high posts embedded in metal trolleys; located in the first below. It is closed in whole or in part with a succession of pieces of wood, the rods.
the false street, about 35 cm wide and whose length, like the curbs, extends between the courtyard and the garden. It allows the appearance or the vertical disappearance of the decorations, and is followed by a curb and a second false street. The firm, heavy chassis or very large, are put in vertical movement, being fixed on metal guides, cassettes, which are operational until the fourth below. A false street is closed by a suite of trappillons;
the street, one meter wide, also extends from courtyard to garden. Its utility serves to move vertically more or less large buildings that can support heavy loads or groups of artists. It is closed by a series of panels, hatches.

All these trappillons, rods and trappes can be maneuvered by various mechanisms automatic or manual as needed. Their rabbet is coated with graphite paste or silicone to facilitate their sliding. Different systems allow to open and close partially or completely one or more streets or false streets, they lower and slide in drawer under the place called line of liftwhere the fixed parts of the scene begin. The hatches appear on the same principle. At the Garnier opera, the horizontal space between the lines of levies (width of the underparts) is about thirty-two meters. These surface arrangements are in vertical continuity with the lower floors where trappillons and trappes are metallic, mobile and open. The plateau of the opera Garnier has two false streets per plan. The stage can accommodate up to four hundred and fifty artists, singers, dancers and extras.

On the wall of the distance, several metal doors are at the courtyard and the garden: on the courtyard side, a very high door allows direct access to the scenery setter located in a courtyard opening, three floors lower, on the ground floor, in the open courtyard on Diaghilev Square. On the garden side, the same high door opens to the Sigurd courtyard. In the center of the distance, an iron curtain blocks access to a wide clearance in which a thick curtain of velvet separates it to the right of the large entrance bay in the Foyer de la Danse. Two double-leafed metal doors for entry onto the stage. On the extreme sides of the tray are the huts or heaps.

At the front of the stage, the directors’ stations control the progress of the shows according to the conduct established during the rehearsals.

The under
Under the movable floor of the stage, an area of about 800 m2, expands a volume with a height of 15.50 m constituting the bottom which are horizontally staggered in five portions each of which has a function for machinery and staging effects. A metal structure includes 512 posts and sleepers for a weight of 850 tons. In the background, in the distance, the last streets and false streets of the tenth plane give access in the lower part to a storage area nicknamed “the canvas pit” which goes down to the fourth below. Dozens of curtains or backdropscoiled on poles can be lowered and placed on metal cradles.

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The first under is assigned to the various movements of metal rail carriages to move the scenery frames on the scene between courtyard and garden. In the center of the floor, a system is formed in the second below garden side, a sloping downhill to Scribe Street to allow the machinists to enter or leave the theater painted paintings rolled on poles; these heavy curtains can reach a length of 28 meters, formerly it was not less than 24 strong men to transport them on foot horizontally since the painting workshops of Bd Berthier. Today, the paintings and textiles used can fold these soft decorations. The others below are equipped to maneuver, vertically or horizontallyfake-streets, thick frames, farms. In line with the streets, it is possible to make appear or disappear large decorative volumes or groups of artists, props, scenery elements of all kinds and all dimensions can be retracted in the theater below.

The so-called “Italian” machinery uses a science of transmission and coordination of movements by proven mechanical techniques. It uses winches and wooden cylinders two meters in diameter that the scenographic terminology names drums. The opera manipulates, from its inauguration in 1875, a very large amount of decorations and makes many movements on stage (appearances, retractions, displacements on different levels.) These horizontally oriented drums are the result of a whole organization of threads or ends., teams and counterpoise passing by mittens, mothers andpulleys for decorative elements. It is thus possible to have several son (a team ) to move different elements on one and the same drum, including so-called drums, allowing different speeds. It is not uncommon to have two drums, or even three, running a single set. After the First World War, the system, until then activated manually, gradually starts to electricity, then the electric motors are enslaved by computers from computers. There are currently only fifty drums still operational in the third and fifth under.

These are the parts to the right and to the left of the stage frame, invisible to the spectators. Their name comes from the time when the frames, covered with painted canvas forming the side decors, were fixed on a system of poles, the poles, themselves embedded in the carriages running under the floor sliding. At this point of the stage are the huts or heaps where the decorative elements are waiting. The traditional machinery skillfully allowed to make a change in sight where one could in a few seconds bring out another scenery: chassis of geometric, oblique or middle wings, trusses, curtains andMain, friezes, gauzes, nets, air strips, strips of land, walkways and all kinds of objects could be changed in a single maneuver using the mechanisms of the drums located in the underside, the hangers and the service gangways. A special drum, one piece from the face to the far, allowed to engineer the combination of this kind of staging effect popular with the public. The extraordinary backstage of the Opera Garnier are each 18 meters wide. There are several service elevators and tall mobile towers to hang lighting fixtures. The artists are waiting for their entry.

The scenes have a name: the courtyard side is on the left for the artist in front of the theater, the garden side is his right. This conventional usage goes back to the post-revolutionary era when the dominant ideology banned the use of certain words. On stage, the left side (court) was named the queen’s side and the right side (garden) that of the king. It was the machinists of the Comédie-Française who initiated this new name when this institution still resided in the Salle des Machines at the Palais des Tuileries between the courtyard (east) and the garden (west). The machinists are here the trays, they are divided into several brigadesaccording to the zone of their function on this very large stage: the couriers, the gardeners, in front or in the distance, the trumeautiers work in the center of the scenes, the trumeau. The organization of their work during rehearsals and performances, is described by the pipe conducted by the stage manager, the commissioners, the chief machinist and brigadiers, a hierarchy where improvisation is impossible.

The hangers
Above the proscenium, this upper part (hanger or hanger) of the scene of cage takes its name from xvii e and xviii e centuries, this place was then surrounded by a curved shape inevitably wood frame for the necessities of its assembly. On both sides, six wide metal walkways or service corridors between which vertically move from the face to the distant 83 metal tubes, the carriers, where the decorative and lighting elements are fixed. At Garnier Opera, the carriers, with a capacity of more than one ton, reach 28 m in length and can receive curtains of the same size over 17 m height. The first footbridge known as the Duboscq bridge bears the name of the optician engineer who created, for forty years at the Paris Opera, all the first lighting fixtures with electricity, projectors and special effects machines that will be developed later and used worldwide.

The three grills
In the upper part of the stage cage (directly above the triangular pediment surmounted by the group of Apollo) are three layers of metal floors lined with grills, suspended by a forest of needles on the ground. frame consisting of sixteen huge lattice steel beams assembled by riveting, a height of 1.60 m. The three grills are equipped with hundreds of pulleys that run kilometers of wire rope used for vertical maneuvers. The first grill is 35.50 m above the stage floor. Originally and as in the under, drumswere spread over the three grills, as can be seen on the cross section pictured above. Today counterbalanced drums and counterbalanced teams have been replaced by computer-controlled electric motors and winches.

The Director Rouché undertakes, between 1917 and 1921, a major innovation in the machinery of the hanger: the drums of the grills are replaced by 102 counterbalanced mechanical teams, installed with regular spacing, for 102 carriers supported by seven to ten steel wires, the counterweights (loaves, pigs ) adjustable according to the needs of movements for decorations and lighting. The unique control of each carrier remains in hemp yarn and becomes easy for the benders who also have a stop brake. At that time a lyrical or choreographic work in 10 paintings still really had a staging with 10 different sets. For example, the Ride ofThe Valkyrie by Richard Wagner, saw climb to gallop toward a sky formed clouds, friezes, tulle, gauze, fumes, fantastic lighting and the huge support passable inclined, a squad of armed riders back to Valhalla. Such special effects are fantastic order completely neglected by setting abstract scene or iconoclastic opera or ballet at the xxi th century.

During the first quarter of the xx th century, there are more than 800 kilometers from rope (hemp and confused steel) for this development which facilitated the stage work to the hanger.

Palais Garnier
The Opera Garnier, or Palace Garnier, is a national theater and lyrical choreography vocation and a major element of heritage 9 th arrondissement of Paris and the capital. It is located Place de l’Opera, at the north end of the Avenue de l’Opera and at the crossroads of many roads. It is accessible by metro (Opera station), by the RER (line A, Auber station) and by bus. The building stands out as a monument particularly representative of eclectic architectureand historicist style of the second half of the xix th century. On a conception of the architect Charles Garnier retained following a competition, its construction, decided by Napoleon III as part of the transformations of Paris conducted by the prefect Haussmann and interrupted by the war of 1870, was resumed at the beginning of the Third Republic, after the destruction by fire of the opera Le Peletier in 1873. The building is inaugurated on January 5, 1875by President MacMahon in the third Republic.

Designed by the architect Charles Garnier in 1875, the Palais Garnier houses a prestigious auditorium and public spaces (grand foyer, rotunda of subscribers, salons), a library-museum as well as several rehearsal studios and workshops.

The “Italian style” theater, whose ceiling was painted by Marc Chagall in 1964, can accommodate 2054 spectators. With nearly 480,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most visited monuments in Paris. It is classified as a historical monument since 1923.

This opera was called “Paris Opera” until 1989, when the opening of the Opera Bastille, also opera in Paris, influenced its name. It is now designated by the only name of its architect: “Opera Garnier” or “Palais Garnier”. The two operas are now grouped together in the public industrial and commercial establishment “Opéra national de Paris”, a French public institution whose mission is to implement the performance of lyric or ballet performances, of high quality. artistic. The opera Garnier has been classified as a historical monument since October 16, 1923.