Paris Je T’Aime: The Paris Opera House

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The Paris Opera known by it’s French title: the Palais Garnier or simply the Opéra is a 1,979-seat opera house, built from 1861 to 1875. The Palais was originally the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when a new 2700-seat house, the Opéra Bastille, opened at the Place de la Bastille. The Palais Garnier has since been used mainly for ballet. The Opéra de Paris is a monument to Beaux-Art opulence. The style of architecture may be defined as a late and eclectic form of Neoclassicism. It combines classical architecture from ancient Greece and Rome with Renaissance ideas. Characterized by order, symmetry, formal design, grandiosity, and elaborate ornamentation, the Palais Garnier stays true to its Beaux Arts style.

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Grandiose is the operative word- the opera is pure Parisian luxury. The lavish structure is marked by slightly overscaled details, bold sculptural supporting consoles, rich deep cornices, swags and sculptural enrichments in the most dazzling style the blue-bloods could afford. From the golden statue work of its fascade to the richly decorated foyers, designed by Garnier to resemble the gallery of a classic chateau, to the beverage inspired tapestries of the Salon Du Glacier, the opera is utterly luxe. The Grand Staircase, arguably one of the most famous features of the Palais, is fashioned in marble of various colours and at its end stand two bronze torchères, large female figures brandishing bouquets of light.

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Look up and one may marvel at the ceiling which, divided into four sections, depicts various scenes of music and then there’s the chandelier or rather ‘Le chandelier’.Located in an auditorium of red and gold, the 7-ton bronze and crystal ornament designed by Garnier cost a hefty 30 000 gold francs, but as it’s craftsman asserted : “What else could fill the theatre with such joyous life? Who else could offer the variety of forms that we have in the pattern of the flames, in these groups and tiers of points of light, these wild hues of gold flecked with bright spots, and these crystalline highlights?” Garnier’s words encapsulate the atmosphere and aesthetic of the palace perfectly. Commissioned by Emperor Napolean the III as part of the great reconstruction of Paris during the Second Empire, the Opéra is an aristocrat’s dream. Possibly the most famous opera house in the world, the Palais Garnier stands as a symbol of Paris beside the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and even that most famous of emblems, the Eiffel Tower.

Sarah Lubala

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