I thought I’d start this post off with a comparison of my 1870s photo of the Opera Garnier with the photo I took this year in 2013. Not exactly the same shot (the antique is of the left side of the facade whereas mine is of the right and middle) but I did manage to include several of the same elements.
I don’t know when my vintage photo was taken, but it could be as early as 1867 when the facade was unveiled. Alas, the lampposts have changed, and significantly decreased in number. I can only imagine what the plaza in front would have looked like with all those lamps lit.
This was a lucky grab of the arcaded balcony on the front when the woman wearing the red scarf just happened to be looking out.
The grand staircase at the Opera Garnier was one of the highlights of the building, and considered a major attraction from the moment it opened. It has been much copied around the world. Photos of the space do not do it justice – this IS truly one of the great public rooms of the world.
I did something a little different with this shot – I cropped it very tall and vertical. It was in part because I wanted to focus the attention on the bronze candelabra, and also to deal with some horrible flare in the right-hand side of the image coming from one of the other light fixtures in the hall.
The Opera Garnier is famous for one particular chandelier (and we’ll get to that), but it houses a multiplicity of beautiful light fixtures. Here are some samples of the variety of chandeliers at the opera:
The salon is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but if it is possible, it is even MORE over-the-top ornate than that palatial room, ceding to it only in length.
The hall itself is a candy confection of red velvet, gold leaf, and frescoed ceiling. Attending a concert here would be quite the experience – I would think you could easily be distracted from the performance by just trying to take in all the architectural details! I don’t know that this would be more sublime than my experience of the concert at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, but it would certainly be a feast for the senses.
And last but not least, we get to the infamous chandelier. Perhaps the best known chandelier on the planet, this is the one around which the “Phantom of the Opera” story revolves. The ceiling, hinted at in the previous photo, is not the original ceiling design for the hall, but was painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall. It brings a modern touch to an otherwise very baroque space and the colors enliven and lighten the otherwise heavy and serious room. The chandelier weighs 7 tons. Originally it was raised through the cupola for cleaning, but now it is lowered. One of the counterweights for the chandelier crashed through the ceiling in 1896, killing an audience member, thus inspiring that part of the Phantom story. The other bit about the underground lake beneath the opera comes from the fact that there is a man-made cistern under the foundations because the ground water is so high that they needed to relieve water pressure on the foundations. It had the added benefit of providing an ample supply of water in case of fire.
The Opera Garnier has been used for concerts and the ballet since it opened, and today it serves first and foremost as a dance space, although classical music continues to have a place in the schedule.