Opera Garnier (Paris)

The Garnier Palace (French: Palais Garnier) or Opéra Garnier is a 1979-seats opera house in Place Opéra in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 by the order of Emperor Napoleon III. Originally called “le nouvel Opéra de Paris” (the new Paris Opera), it was soon became known as the Palais Garnier, “in recognition of its extraordinary wealth” of the plans and designs of the architect Charles Garnier, which are representative of the Napoleon III style. It was the main theatre of the Paris Opera and the associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when a new opera house, the Opéra Bastille, opened on Place de la Bastille. The company now uses the Palais Garnier mainly for ballet. The theatre has been a historical monument of France since 1923.

Paris map Opera

Opera, Grand boulevards, city center on the map

Opera Garnier in Paris

Opera Garnier in Paris on the post card, note the taxi

In 1821, the Paris Opera moved into a temporary building known as the Salle Le Peletier, on Rue Le Peletier. Since then, there has been a need for a new permanent building. Charles Rohault de Fleury, who was appointed the opera’s official architect in 1846, made various studies of suitable sites and projects. By 1847, Claude-Philibert de Rambuteau, Prefect of the Seine, had chosen a site on the east side of the Palais Royal as a part of the extension of Rue Rivoli. However, with the revolution of 1848, Rambuteau was fired, and interest of building a new opera house faded. The site was later occupied by the Grand Hotel Louvre (partially designed by Charles Rho de Fleury).
With the establishment of the Second Empire in 1852 and the appointment of Georges-Eugène Haussmann as Prefect of the Seine in June 1853, interest in the new opera house revived. On January 14, 1858, an attempt was made to assassinate Emperor Napoleon III at the entrance to the Salle Le Peletier. The limited access to the Salle Le Peletier emphasized the need for a separate, more secure entrance for the head of state. This anxiety, as well as inadequate facilities and the temporary nature of the theatre, made the construction of a new state opera house more urgent. By March, Haussmann had settled on a proposed Rho de Fleury site next to the Boulevard des Capucines, although this decision was not publicly announced until 1860. The new building would help address the awkward convergence of the streets at this location, and the location was economical in terms of land value. .
On September 29, 1860, an Imperial Decree officially designated the site for the new Opera, which was to eventually occupy 12,000 square meters (1.2 ha). By November 1860, Ro de Fleury had completed what he thought would be the crowning achievement of his career, and was also working on a commission from the city to design the façades of other buildings lining the new square to ensure their harmony. However, in the same month, Count Alexander Colonna-Walewski replaced Achille Fould as Minister of State. His wife, Marie Anne de Ricci Poniatowska, used her position as Napoleon III’s mistress to secure her husband’s appointment. Aware of competing projects and under pressure to commission Viollet-le-Duc, who was supported by the Empress Eugenie, Walewski avoided having to make a decision by offering to organize an architectural design competition to select an architect.

Contest. On December 30, 1860, the Second Empire of Emperor Napoleon III officially announced a competition of architectural projects for the design of a new opera house. Applicants were given a month to apply. The competition was held in two stages. Charles Garnier’s design was one of 170 projects submitted in the first phase. Each of the contestants had to submit a motto that summarized their design. Garnier is a quote from the Italian poet Torquato Tasso “Bramo assai, poco spero” (“Hope much, expect little”). Project Garnier won the fifth place prize and was one of the seven finalists selected for the second round. Besides Garnier, others included his friend Léon Ginant, Alphonse-Nicolas Crepinet and Joseph-Louis Duc (who later withdrew due to other commitments). To the surprise of many, both Viollet-le-Duc and Charles Rho de Fleury were absent.
The second stage required participants to revise their original designs and was more rigorous, with a 58-page program written by the Opera’s director Alphonse Royer, which participants received on 18 of April. The new works were sent to the jury in mid-May, and on May 29, 1861, Garnier’s design was chosen for its “rare and excellent qualities in the excellent arrangement of plans, monumentality, and the characteristic side of facades and sections.”
Garnier’s wife Louise later wrote that the French architect Alphonse de Gisors, who was on the jury, told them that Garnier’s project was “remarkable for its simplicity, clarity, logic, grandeur, as well as the external features that distinguish the plan into three separate parts – public spaces , auditorium and stage… “you have greatly improved your project since the first competition, while Guinein (who won first place in the first stage) only ruined his.
Legend has it that the emperor’s wife, Empress Eugenie, probably very annoyed that her chosen candidate, Viollet-le-Duc, had not been chosen, asked of the unknown Garnier, “What is this? It’s not a style; it is neither Louis XIV, nor Louis XV, nor Louis XVI!” “Because, madame, this is Napoleon III,” replied Garnier, “and you are complaining!” Andrew Ayers wrote that Garnier’s definition “remains undisputed, so much so that the Palais Garnier seems to be a symbol of its time and of the Second Empire. A dizzying mixture of the latest technology, rather austere rationalism, flamboyant eclecticism and striking opulence, Opera Garnier embodied the diverging trends, political and social ambitions of its era.” It is said that the judges of the competition especially admired Garnier’s designs for “the clarity of his plan, which was a brilliant example of the Beaux-Arts design methods, in which both he and they were thoroughly versed in the design.”
Opera agency. After initial funds were found on 2 July 1861 to start construction, Garnier set up his “Opéra Agence” office on the construction site and hired a team of architects and draftsmen. He chose Louis-Victor Louvet as his deputy, followed by Jean Jourdain and Edmond Le Deschault (Louis-Victor Louvet, Jean Jourdain and Edmond Le Deschault).

Foundation the laying. Excavations were carried out at this site from August 27 to December 31. On January 13, 1862, the first concrete foundations were poured, starting at the front and working towards the rear in succession, with the laying of the structure beginning immediately after each section of concrete was poured. The opera house needed a much deeper basement in the sub-stage area than other building types, but the water table was unexpectedly high. The wells were flooded in February 1862 and eight steam pumps were installed in March, but despite the fact that they worked continuously 24 hours a day, the site did not dry out. To solve this problem, Garnier developed a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture. It included a watercourse and a huge concrete cistern (cuvee), which simultaneously relieved the pressure of external groundwater on the basement walls and served as a reservoir in case of fire. The contract for its construction was signed on June 20. A persistent legend soon arose that the opera house was built over an underground lake, which inspired Gaston Leroux to include the idea in his novel The Phantom of the Opera. On July 21, the first stone was laid in the southeast corner of the building’s façade. In October, the pumps were dismantled, the cuvée’s brick vaulting was completed by November 8, and the base frame was nearly completed by the end of the year.

Model. The emperor expressed interest in seeing a model of the building, and a plaster model (2 cm per meter) was built by Louis Villeminot between April 1862 and April 1863 at a cost of over 8,000 francs. After a preview, the emperor demanded several changes to the building’s design, the most important of which was the abandonment of the balustrade terrace with corner groups at the top of the façade and its replacement with a massive attic floor framed by a continuous frieze, topped by imperial quadrigas over the terminal bays. With the changes made, the model was transported on specially installed rails to the Palais des Industries for public viewing at the 1863 exhibition. a kind of reality that allows one to better predict the final effect… it attracts the curiosity of the crowd; in fact, this is a new Opera, which can be seen through the inverted opera glass. The model is now lost, but was photographed by J. B. Donas in 1863. The emperor’s quadrigas were never added, although they could be seen on the model. Instead, in 1869, the gilded bronze sculptural groups of Charles-Alphonse Guméry “Harmony and Poetry” were installed. The linear frieze shown on the model was also redesigned, with alternating low and high relief decorative medallions bearing the gilded letters of the imperial monogram (“N” for Napoleon, “E” for Empereur). The custom-made letters were not ready to be opened and were replaced with commercially available substitutes. After the fall of the empire in 1870, Garnier was relieved to remove them from the medallions. The letters of Garnier’s original design were finally installed during the restoration of the building in 2000.

Change of the names. The scaffolding covering the facade were removed on August 15, 1867, for the Paris Exhibition of 1867. The official name of the Paris Opera was prominently displayed on the entablature of the giant Corinthian order of twin columns overlooking the first floor loggia: “Imperial Academy of Music.” When the emperor was overthrown on September 4, 1870 as a result of the devastating Franco-Prussian War, the government was replaced by the Third Republic, and almost immediately, on September 17, 1870, the Opera was renamed the National Opera House. The name was retained until 1939. Despite this, when the time came to change the name of the new opera house, only the first six letters of the word IMPERIALE were replaced, giving the now known “ACADEMIE NATIONALE DE MUSIQUE”, an official name that had actually only been used for about the two-year period of the Second Republic, which preceded the Second Empire.
1870–1871 All work on the building was stopped during the Franco-Prussian War due to the siege of Paris (September 1870 – January 1871). Construction was so advanced that parts of the building could be used as a grocery store and a hospital. After the defeat of France, Garnier became seriously ill due to the hardships of the siege and left Paris from March till June to recuperate on the Ligurian coast of Italy, while his assistant Louis Louvet stayed behind during the turmoil of the Paris Commune. Louvet wrote several letters to Garnier documenting the events surrounding the building. Because of the theater’s proximity to the fighting at Place Vendôme, National Guard troops bivouacked there and were responsible for its defense and distribution of food for soldiers and civilians. The commune authorities planned to replace Garnier with another architect, but the unnamed man had not yet appeared when Republican troops overthrew the National Guard and took control of the building on 23 May. By the end of the month, the Commune had suffered a crushing defeat. By the fall, the Third Republic was strong enough that building work resumed on September 30, and by the end of October, the new legislature voted for a small amount of funds for further construction.
1872–1873 The political leaders of the new government maintained a keen dislike of anything associated with the Second Empire, and many of them considered the essentially apolitical Garnier to be a relic of that regime. This was especially true during the presidency of Adolphe Thiers, who remained in office until May 1873 but continued under his successor, Marshal MacMahon. Economy was needed, and Garnier was forced to forfeit the completion of sections of the building, notably the Emperor’s Pavilion (which later became home to the Opera Museum’s Library). However, on October 28–29, a huge impetus for the completion of the new theatre came when the Salle Le Peletier was destroyed by a fire that raged all night. Garnier was immediately ordered to complete construction as soon as possible.

Completion. The cost of completing the new house in 1874 was over 7.5 million francs, which significantly exceed the amounts spent in any period of the previous thirteen years. The cash-strapped government of the Third Republic resorted to borrowing 4.9 million gold francs at six percent from François Blanc, a wealthy financier who ran the Monte Carlo casino. Subsequently (from 1876 to 1879), Garnier would oversee the design and construction of the concert hall of the Monte Carlo Casino, the Salle Garnier, which has later became the home of the Monte Carlo Opera.
During 1874, Garnier and his construction team worked feverishly to complete the new Paris Opera House, and by October 17 the orchestra was able to conduct acoustic tests of the new hall, and on December 2 another, which was attended by officials, guests and members of the press. The Paris Opera Ballet danced on stage on December 12, and six days later the famous chandelier was lit for the first time.
The theatre was officially opened on 5 January 1875 with a lavish gala performance attended by Marshal McMahon, Lord Mayor of London and King Alfonso XII of Spain. The program included overtures to Aubert’s La muette de Portici and Rossini’s William Tell, the first two acts of Halévy’s 1835 opera La Juive (starring Gabriel Krauss), and the Consecration of Swords from Meyerbeer’s The Forest » 1836 Huguenots and ballet 1866 The Source to music by Delibes and Minkus. As the soprano fell ill, one act from Faust by Charles Gounod and one from Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas had to be missed. During the intermission, Garnier stepped onto the landing of the main staircase and received approving applause from the audience.
In 1881, electric lighting was installed. In the 1950s, new staff elevators and freight elevators were installed at the rear of the stage to facilitate the movement of employees in the administration building and the movement of stage sets.
In 1969 the theater received new electrical equipment, and in 1978 part of the original Dance Foyer was converted by the architect Jean-Loup Roubert into a new rehearsal space for the ballet company. In 1994, restoration work began at the theatre. This included upgrading stage equipment and electrical equipment, restoring and preserving luxurious decor, and strengthening the building’s structure and foundations. The restoration was completed in 2007.

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Opera Garnier, Paris

Opera Garnier, Paris

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