The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The theatre is also often referred to as the Opéra Garnier and historically was known as the Opéra de Paris or simply the Opéra, as it was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when the Opéra Bastille opened at the Place de la Bastille.The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet.
The Palais Garnier also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum), although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
On 29 September 1860 an imperial decree officially designated the site for the new Opéra, which would eventually occupy 12,000 square metres (1.2 ha). On 30 December 1860 the Second Empire of Emperor Napoleon III officially announced an architectural design competition for the design of the new opera house. Charles Garnier (1825–1898) was one of 171 entrants in the first phase, and eventually won the contest. After the initial funds to begin construction were voted on 2 July 1861, Garnier established the Opéra Agence, his office on the construction site, and hired a team of architects and draftsmen. He selected as his second-in-command, Louis-Victor Louvet, followed by Jean Jourdain and Edmond Le Deschault.
The site was excavated between 27 August and 31 December. On 13 January 1862 the first concrete foundations were poured, starting at the front and progressing sequentially toward the back, with the laying of the substructure masonry beginning as soon as each section of concrete was cast. The opera house needed a much deeper basement in the substage area than other building types, but the level of the groundwater was unexpectedly high. Wells were sunk in February 1862 and eight steam pumps installed in March, but despite operating continuously 24 hours a day, the site would not dry up. To deal with this problem Garnier designed a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture. It incorporated a water course and an enormous concrete cistern (cuve) which would both relieve the pressure of the external groundwater on the basement walls and serve as a reservoir in case of fire. A contract for its construction was signed on 20 June. Soon a persistent legend arose that the opera house was built over a subterranean lake. On 21 July the cornerstone was laid at the southeast angle of the building's facade. In October the pumps were removed, the brick vault of the cuve was finished by 8 November, and the substructure was essentially complete by the end of the year.
The scaffolding concealing the facade was removed on 15 August 1867 in time for the Paris Exposition of 1867. When the emperor was deposed on 4 September 1870 as a result of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, the government was replaced by the Third Republic, and almost immediately, on 17 September 1870, the Opera was renamed Théâtre National de l'Opéra, a name it kept until 1939.
All work on the building came to a halt during the Franco-Prussian War due to the siege of Paris (September 1870 – January 1871). Construction had so advanced that parts of the building could be used as a food warehouse and a hospital. On 30 September construction work recommenced, and by late October a small amount of funds were voted by the new legislature for further construction.
The political leaders of the new government maintained an intense dislike of all things associated with the Second Empire, and many of them regarded the essentially apolitical Garnier as a holdover from that regime. This was especially true during the presidency of Adolphe Thiers who remained in office until May 1873, but also persisted under his successor Marshal MacMahon. Economies were demanded, and Garnier was forced to suppress the completion of sections of the building, in particular the Pavillon de l'Empereur. However, on 28–29 October an overwhelming incentive to complete the new theatre came when the Salle Le Peletier was destroyed by a fire which raged the entire night. Garnier was immediately instructed to complete the building as soon as possible.
The cost of completion of the new house during 1874 was more than 7.5 million francs, a sum that greatly exceeded the amounts spent in any of the previous thirteen years. The cash-strapped government of the Third Republic resorted to borrowing 4.9 million gold francs at an interest rate of six percent from François Blanc, the wealthy financier who managed the Monte Carlo Casino. Subsequently (from 1876 to 1879) Garnier would oversee the design and construction of the Monte Carlo Casino concert hall, the Salle Garnier, which later became the home of the Opéra de Monte Carlo.
During 1874 Garnier and his construction team worked feverishly to complete the new Paris opera house, and by 17 October the orchestra was able to conduct an acoustical test of the new auditorium, followed by another on 2 December which was attended by officials, guests, and members of the press. The Paris Opera Ballet danced on the stage on 12 December, and six days later the famous chandelier was lit for the first time.
The theatre was formally inaugurated on 5 January 1875 with a lavish gala performance attended by Marshal MacMahon, the Lord Mayor of London and King Alfonso XII of Spain. The program included the overtures to Auber's La muette de Portici and Rossini's William Tell, the first two acts of Halévy's 1835 opera La Juive (with Gabrielle Krauss in the title role), along with "The Consecration of the Swords" from Meyerbeer's 1836 opera Les Huguenots and the 1866 ballet La source with music by Delibes and Minkus. As a soprano had fallen ill one act from Charles Gounod's Faust and one from Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet had to be omitted. During the intermission Garnier stepped out onto the landing of the grand staircase to receive the approving applause of the audience.
The principal facade is on the south side of the building, overlooking the Place de l'Opéra and terminates the perspective along the Avenue de l'Opéra. Fourteen painters, mosaicists and seventy-three sculptors participated in the creation of its ornamentation.
The sculptural group Apollo, Poetry, and Music, located at the apex of the south gable of the stage flytower, is the work of Aimé Millet, and the two smaller bronze Pegasus figures at either end of the south gable are by Eugène-Louis Lequesne.
The Pavillon de l'Empereur, also known as the Rotonde de l'Empereur, now houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum) which is home to nearly 600,000 documents including 100,000 books, 1,680 periodicals, 10,000 programs, letters, 100,000 photographs, sketches of costumes and sets, posters and historical administrative records.
The building features a large ceremonial staircase of white marble with a balustrade of red and green marble, which divides into two divergent flights of stairs that lead to the Grand Foyer. Its design was inspired by Victor Louis's grand staircase for the Théâtre de Bordeaux. The pedestals of the staircase are decorated with female torchères, created by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. The ceiling above the staircase was painted by Isidore Pils to depict The Triumph of Apollo, The Enchantment of Music Deploying its Charms, Minerva Fighting Brutality Watched by the Gods of Olympus, and The City of Paris Receiving the Plan of the New Opéra.
The auditorium has a traditional Italian horseshoe shape and can seat 1,979. The stage is the largest in Europe and can accommodate as many as 450 artists.
The ceiling area, which surrounds the chandelier, was originally painted by Jules Eugène Lenepveu. In 1964 a new ceiling painted by Marc Chagall was installed on a removable frame over the original. It depicts scenes from operas by 14 composers – Mussorgsky, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Rameau, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Adam, Bizet, Verdi, Beethoven, and Gluck.
The 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier. Jules Corboz prepared the model, and it was cast and chased by Lacarière, Delatour & Cie. The total cost came to 30,000 gold francs. The use of a central chandelier aroused controversy, and it was criticized for obstructing views of the stage by patrons in the fourth level boxes and views of the ceiling painted by Eugène Lenepveu.
In 1881 electric lighting was installed. In the 1950s new personnel and freight elevators were installed at the rear of stage, to facilitate the movement of employees in the administration building and the moving of stage scenery. In 1969, the theatre was given new electrical facilities and, during 1978, part of the original Foyer de la Danse was converted into new rehearsal space for the Ballet company by the architect Jean-Loup Roubert. During 1994, restoration work began on the theatre. This consisted of modernizing the stage machinery and electrical facilities, while restoring and preserving the opulent décor, as well as strengthening the structure and foundation of the building. This restoration was completed in 2007.
The Palais Garnier is probably one of the most famous opera house in the world, a symbol of Paris like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or the Sacré Coeur Basilica. This is at least partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, especially, the novel's subsequent adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular 1986 musical.