Monday, October 23, 2006

Paris - Opéra de Paris Garnier

The opulent Opéra de Paris Garnier was designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III. It is the most important symbol of the 19th century Second Empire baroque style. Construction of the opera building started in 1862, but it wasn't completed until 1875, partly because an underground lake was discovered during construction. The small lake still exists under the opera building. It was the hiding place of the 'Phantom of the Opera' in Paul Leroux's famous play (and in the musical based on that play by Andrew Lloyd Webber.)

A large building, it has a total area of 11,000 square metres (118,404 square feet) and a vast stage with room for up to 450 artists. The auditorium itself comprises roughly half of the total space, most of the rest being used to house necessary logistical support so that the stage demands of any opera can be met and even surpassed. This can include live horses running on a rotating stage. The opera seats only 2,200.

Legend has it that the Empress Eugénie asked Garnier whether the building was to be in Greek or Roman style to which he replied "It is in the Napoléon III style Madame!" It remains an ornate building richly decorated with friezes, columns, and winged figures among other statues and embellishments.

This richness continues inside with velvet, gold leaf, and nymphs and cherubs. The auditorium's central chandelier weighs over six tons, and its ceiling was painted in 1964 by Chagall.

Sources: Les Cars Rouges, A View on Cities: Opéra de Paris Garnier, Paris Pages: Opéra Garnier

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