Phantom, Where Art Thou?

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The façade of the Palais Garnier with 2 gilded figure groups by Charles Gumery. “L’ Harmonie (Harmony) on the Left & La Poesie (Poetry) on the Right side.

When in Paris, it always seems to me that there is so much to see and do and really so little time to explore everything. With the Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre, Sacré Coeur Basilica, Eiffel Tower, George Pompidou Centre, Place des Vosges, the River Seine Cruise beckoning… not forgetting the alluring Paris Opera House.

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Palais Garnier along Rue Scribe

This is probably the world’s most famous opera house, in part because it was used as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel “The Phantom of the Opera” and subsequently, adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acclaimed musical masterpiece which was a mega-hit in 1986. “Phantom of the Opera” is undoubtedly brilliant and has captured the hearts of many with the gorgeous costumes, breathtaking special effects, amazing scenery and hauntingly beautiful music. Need I say more, this is my favourite musical of all time!

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Charles Gumery’s La Poesie (Poetry) crown the apex of the principal façade’s right avant corps

This 1,979 seat opera house was built between 1861 to 1875 for the Opera de Paris. Originally called the “Salle des Capucines” as it was located on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It was later renamed Palais Garnier in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier.

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The Rotunda upon entering the Opera house

Entrance fee for Adults on an independent visit is €10 but don’t begrudge them this tiny fee as it is worth every penny. Guided tours are also available at the ticket office.

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Ornate Ceiling on the Ground level

Construction of the Opera house began in 1861 and it was inaugurated on 5th Jan 1875. The principal façade is on the south side of the building overlooking the Place de l’Opéra.

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Highly decorated pillars & vaulted alcove

During the Second Empire of Emperor Napoleon III, an architectural design competition was held on 30 Dec 1860 for the new opera house. Applicants were given a month to submit their entries in a two-phased competition. In the second phase, the contestants had to revise their original plans which was more rigorous, with a 58 page programme written by the director of the Opera Alphonse Royer. Charles Garnier came up tops after a selection panel of jury found his project to have rare and superior qualities that was both beautiful, monumental and characteristic of the Beaux-Arts style.

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Beautiful balustrade of red & green marble

Female torchères created by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, decorate the pedestals of the staircase. In 1881 electrical lightings were fitted and in the 1950’s personnel and freight elevators installed at the rear of the stage to facilitate the movement of employees in the administration building and moving of stage scenery.

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The Grand Staircase

Paris Opera House has a large staircase of white marble which divides into two divergent flights of stairs that lead to the Grand Foyer. Did not get to visit the actual Auditorium as a concert was going on.

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Exhibit on the ground floor

The Beaux-Arts architectural style features axial symmetry in plan with eclectic exterior ornamentation with an abundance of Neo-Baroque decorative elements. Elaborate multi-coloured friezes, columns and lavish statuary portraying deities from Greek mythology was characteristic.

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Neo-Baroque influences

The interior consists of interweaving corridors, stairwells, alcoves and landings allowing the movement of large numbers of people and space for socializing during intermission.

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A closer look at the ceiling within Palais Garnier

The ceiling above the staircase was painted by Isidore Pils depicting “The Triumph of Apollo“, “The City of Paris Receiving The Plan Of the New Opéra“, “The Enchantment of Music Deploying the Charms” and “Minerva Fighting Brutality Watched by the Gods of Olympus“.

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A long corridor where drinks are served during intermission perhaps?

On 20th May 1896, there was a fatal accident when the counterweights of the 7 ton bronze and crystal chandelier designed by Garnier broke free and burst through the ceiling into the auditorium killing a member of the audience. This inspired one of the famous scenes in Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera” written in 1910. Another interesting fact about the Opera House is its double foundation that incorporates a water course and an enormous concrete cistern right under the stage that helps relieve pressure from external groundwater on the basement walls and also act as a reservoir in case of fire. This gave Leroux the idea for the Opera house in his novel that sits on a subterranean lake creating an atmosphere of mystery. I especially love the underground labyrinth scene where the Phantom and Christine cross the lake in a boat to his secret lair beneath the Opera House. The genius of A.L. Webber where the stage settings, music, singing and pathos culminate in a touching poignant climax; moving me to tears!

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The Grand Foyer

This hall is 18m high, 154m long and 13m wide and it was designed to act as a drawing room for Paris society. Restored in 2004 the original 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.

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The Grand Foyer

I gasped at the sight as I did not expect this but the foyer was almost opulence personified; so overwhelmingly beautiful, magnificent paintings and all and such a feast to the eyes. Restoration work was started in 1994 to revamp the stage machinery and electrical facilities, whilst restoring and preserving the opulent decor, as well as strengthening the structure and foundation of the building. This arduous process took over a decade to complete.

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Handel (1685-1759)

George Frideric Handel a German born British Baroque composer, spent most of his career in London becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. His remains are found at the Westminster Abbey, London.

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Gluck (1714-1787)

Christoph Willibald Gluck was a composer of Italian and French operas in the early Classical period. Though born in Berching, Germany he was buried in Vienna, Austria.

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Lulli (1632-1687)

Jean-Baptiste Lully was an Italian born French composer, instrumentalist and dancer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the Chief Master of French Baroque style. Borned in Florence, Italy his final resting place was in Paris, France.

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Rameau (1683-1764)

Jean-Philippe Rameau was an important French composer and music theorists of the Baroque era. He is best remembered today for his harpsichord music, operas and works in other theatrical genres. Born in the city of Dijon, his was buried in the Church of St. Eustache in Paris.

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Place de l’Opéra in Paris, the City of Light (La Ville Lumière)

The height of Palais Garnier from ground level to the apex of the Stage flytower is 56m. This is the view of Place de l’Opéra from the loggia of the opera house.

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Busker entertaining an audience seated at the steps of the Opera House

Palais Garnier houses the Paris Opera which now uses this venue for ballets and the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris which now falls under the auspices of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. When you next visit the City of Light, visit the resplendent Opera House and who knows… the spirit of the Phantom might just be watching you!

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