Palais Garnier (Opéra)

Today I visited Palais Garnier better known as Opéra. Yes, this is the famous opera house inaugurated in 1875. Napoleon III commissioned Charles Garnier to design and build it in 1861. And, yes, this is the opera house of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra.

It has seven levels below the stage for accommodating sets. This put the basement well below grade and deep into swampy soil. There was no managing to pump out the water, so the design made use of the water as ballast for the lowest level. The water level could be changed depending on how heavy the sets were!

Unfortunately, the lake, while still there, is not visible to the public. One just has to imagine it.

The next set of pictures shows the entryway and grand staircase. It is an amazing four levels of opulence.

This was the way in for the attendees for performances. And, it was certainly the place to see and be seen.

For me, the most amazing thing about travel is to come face to face with what previously was only something I had read or seen in a book or painting. There are some famous paintings of the rich and famous in this multi-tiered open area on opera nights.

Those paintings are great, but seeing the actual space both puts them into perspective and aggrandizes them at the same time.

The actual seating is quite small proportional to the entire building. What you see in my pictures are the boxes. There are three levels of boxes. Below is the open seating area.

Each box has a door on the corridor side with the box number, a sign saying it is for six people, and a sliding panel saying louée (rented) or not (blank).

Unfortunately, I could not get into one of the boxes, but I could peer through a glass portal in the doors. The boxes are fairly narrow, maybe two or three people side by side. The seating therefore is two to three rows deep. But, the box is even deeper. There is a small sitting area before the seating with a small built in table and, I think, mirror.

Recall every novel you have read set in the late 1800s. People went to the opera, but not to really see or hear the opera. They were there to be seen and mingle. Someone was always visiting your box or off to visit someone else’s box. There were many discussions having nothing to do with the opera at hand.

Notice that the boxes are pretty well isolated from each other from side to side, but not from the front. And, the side to side isolation was easy to overcome by standing in the box. So, everyone with a box had as much isolation as they wanted and as much exposure as they dared.

Read Le Comte de Monte-Cristo and picture the many opera scenes described in the book. Again, this is why I love travel. Everything I have read and all I will read is much more personal now.

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