Opera Garnier

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Palais Garnier, 2009
Statue of Apollo with music on the left and poetry on the right on the roof of the Opéra Garnier

The Opéra Garnier , also known as the Palais Garnier , is (alongside the Opéra Bastille ) one of the two Parisian opera houses that are subordinate to the state institution Opéra National de Paris . It was opened in 1875 and is located on the right bank of the Seine in the 9th arrondissement . It owes its name to its builder Charles Garnier . Since the Opéra Bastille opened in 1989, the Opéra Garnier has mainly been used for ballet performances by the in-house Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris , but still performs classical operas as well.


The opera was built from 1860 to 1875 under the master builder and architect Charles Garnier on behalf of Napoléon III. built. The immediate reason for the new building was a failed assassination attempt on Napoléon on January 14, 1858, when he and the empress had visited the former opera Salle de la rue Lepeletier .

Garnier stuck to an external design from which the internal functions can be clearly read, and took up the traditional peep-show stage again, which he surrounded with a grandiose frame, a scene of pleasure and luxury for the festivities of the imperial court and the triumphant people.

The prefect Georges-Eugène Haussmann determined the building site as part of the ongoing redesign of the metropolis, and a competition was held in 1858, from which the young, unknown Garnier surprisingly emerged as the winner. The difficult and lengthy construction work began in 1860. The terrain alone caused problems because the high groundwater level made it difficult to secure the foundations. Indeed, under the opera building is the underground “lake” that the legendary Phantom of the Opera allegedly navigates with its barge. In reality, however - not very romantic - it is an artificial groundwater collection basin that has to be regularly checked and pumped out by the fire brigade.

Construction was also delayed by the war of 1870/71 and the decline of the German Empire. After a fire in the existing opera house in 1873, the government of the Third Republic decided to have the construction completed so that the new opera could be inaugurated on January 5, 1875.


Design and model drawing
Palais Garnier
Inside the Opéra Garnier

With its neo-baroque style, lavishly decorated on the inside, the opera is unique among the Parisian buildings of that time, which are mostly determined by classicism and historicism . With the opera, the master builder wanted to create his own Napoléon III style and take special account of the fact that a visit to the opera in the 19th century was primarily a social event. It was all about seeing and being seen. In accordance with these needs, the architect created an appropriate “stage” for the “show” of the audience with a spectacular marble staircase, the grand foyer , the round Salon du Glacier and finally the huge auditorium decorated in red and gold tones. Due to the horseshoe shape of the auditorium, the view of the stage is poorer the further you sit on the edge, but the view into the boxes opposite is perfect. At that time it was not yet common to turn off the light in the hall at the beginning of the performance in order to be able to concentrate on what was happening on the stage. The importance of this "seeing and being seen" is also evident in Garnier's construction plan: he planned as much space for the foyer and stairs as for the entire stage area and the size of the grand foyer with its galleries roughly corresponds to that of the auditorium .

Until the inauguration of the Opéra Bastille in 1989, the Palais Garnier was the largest theater building in the world (even if the Vienna State Opera and La Scala in Milan have more seats). The floor space covers 11,237 square meters, there is space for 1,900 spectators, the hall is illuminated by an eight-ton crystal chandelier, the staircase is equipped with over 30 different types of marble.

On the outside, arched pillars of the lower facade bear allegorical sculptural decorations: the lyrical poetry, the music, the idyll, the declamation, the song, the drama, the dance and the lyrical drama. Over the arch you can see medallions with images of Cimarosa, Haydn, Pergolesi and Bach. Gilt bronze busts of great composers (Halévy, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Auber, Spontini, Beethoven and Mozart) are placed in the niches above the loggia. Bronze groups of lyrical poetry with the muses and the geniuses of fame stand on the attic. The huge dome is crowned by a statue of Apollo, flanked by figures of Pegasus. The side and rear facades are encircled by a relief of two intertwined meander bands , which is located at the level of the upper window ledge. A similar relief, reminiscent of chained swastikas, can also be found in the Sully wing of the Louvre , but there inside as a finish for the wall cladding below the window edges.

original, currently covered ceiling painting by Jules Eugène Lenepveu
Plafond by Marc Chagall

In 1964, the 77-year-old Marc Chagall created a design for a new ceiling painting in the dome above the auditorium on behalf of Culture Minister André Malraux . The original 240 square meter ceiling painting was not lost, however, but is still located behind that of Chagall, who worked on twelve canvas segments fitted into the dome, which are attached to a plastic construction. Although Chagall's artistic achievement is generally recognized, the stylistic break between the Chagall ceiling, which is supposed to represent a colorful “hymn to music”, and the architectural ornamentation still leads to regular discussions today. Chagall, who executed his design between January and August 1963, thematized in his painting 14 famous composers and their greatest works and depicted himself with a painter's palette and brush. The ceiling painting was by Roland Bierge (1922–1991) based on Chagall's design between January and Made in June 1964 in a workshop of the "Manufacture des Gobelins".

A draft of the original blue-ground ceiling painting by Jules Eugène Lenepveu from 1872 with a cycle of mythological figures can be viewed in the picture gallery in the Museum des Palais Garnier. The painting Lenepveus, which is composed of 24 copper plates and was restored twice in the first half of the 20th century, contains 63 figures depicting the muses and the hours of day and night.

Controversial discussions arose in 2015 after visitors to the house found part of the box partition walls removed. Three of the previous lodges each formed a larger lodge. The Opéra National de Paris defended its approach with the considerable improvement in the view of the stage that had been achieved for the seats in question. Charles Garnier had already planned the new way of removing the partition walls as required.

In architectural history, the Opéra Garnier is considered a prime example of theater construction. It was often a model for later buildings; For example, the facade of the Theater des Westens, completed in Berlin in 1896, is strikingly similar to that of the Paris Opera House.

Phantom of the opera

This opera house is the original location of the story of the Phantom of the Opera . The real background is mysterious noises from the underground during the first performances as well as an accident, which has never been fully explained, in which a counterweight of the heavy chandelier fell on May 20, 1896 and killed the 56-year-old concierge Madame Chomette from Rue Rochechouart. These events and the fear of the theater people of the eerie cellar, its labyrinthine corridors and the groundwater reservoir, unknown to them, created the myth about the “operatic spirit”. The subterranean waters that the Phantom of the Opera travels with its barge really exist and still have to be pumped out regularly today. Box 5, claimed by the Phantom of the Opera, is marked accordingly and can be viewed from the outside (on the first floor, far left).


See also


  • Gérard Fontaine: Le grand théâtre national de Pékin: Comment réussir un opéra de Charles Garnier à Paul Andrieu. Agnès Viénot Editions 2003, ISBN 2-914645-09-0 , in French
  • Anselm Gerhard : The urbanization of the opera. Paris and the 19th century musical theater. Metzler Verlag 1998, ISBN 3-476-00850-9
  • Martine Kahane, Thierry Beauvert, Jacques Moatti: The Paris Opera. The “Palais Garnier”. Ernst Wasmuth, Zurich 1991 ISBN 9783803001443 illustrated book
  • Steinhauser, Monika: The architecture of the Paris Opera. Studies of their origins and their architectural history Position. (= Studies on the Art of the Nineteenth Century; Vol. 11) Prestel Verlag, Munich 1969


  • The forbidden door ( L'âge heureux ; TV series, France, 1966)
  • The Paris Opera Garnier. Documentary, France, 1999, 28 min., Director: Stan Neumann, production: arte France, Les Films d'ici, series: Baukunst

Web links

Commons : Opéra Garnier  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Gérard Fontaine: The Charles Garniers Opera, Éditions du patrimoine, Center des monuments nationaux, Paris 2015, p. 43.
  2. Guy Boyer: Transformation scandaleuse des loges de l'Opéra Garnier. In: Connaissance des Arts. October 30, 2015, accessed November 13, 2015 (French).
  3. ^ Opéra National de Paris: Palais Garnier: Modernization of the box partitions. Removable partitions, a feature designed by Charles Garnier. (No longer available online.) Formerly in the original ; accessed on November 13, 2015 .  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / www.operadeparis.fr
  4. Paris-Tourist.com: Article on Palais Garnier

Coordinates: 48 ° 52 ′ 19 ″  N , 2 ° 19 ′ 54 ″  E