The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. Originally called the Salle des Capucines, but it soon became known as the Palais Garnier in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. 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 Palais Garnier is “probably 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 film and on stage. Another contributing factor is that among the buildings constructed in Paris during the Second Empire, besides being the most expensive, it has been described as the only one that is “unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.”
The Palais Garnier is a building of exceptional opulence. The style is monumental and considered typically Beaux-Arts, with use of axial symmetry in plan, and its exterior ornamentation. Its audience sits under a central chandelier which weighs more than six tons, and it has a huge stage with room to accommodate as many as 450 artists.
It is decorated with very elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology. Gilded galvanoplastic bronze busts of many of the great composers are located between the columns of the theatre’s front façade and depict from left to right: Rossini, Auber, Beethoven, Mozart, Spontini, Meyerbeer, and Halévy. On the left and right lateral returns of the front facade are busts of the librettists Eugène Scribe and Philippe Quinault, respectively.
The building inspired many other buildings over the following thirty years was its completion:
- Several buildings in Poland were based on the design of the Palais Garnier. these include the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków, built during 1893 and also the Warsaw Philharmony edifice in Warsaw, built between 1900 and 1901.
- In the Ukraine, the influence of the Palais Garnier can be seen at the National Opera House of Ukraine in Kiev, built in 1901, Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Lviv, built between 1897 and 1900.
- The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is modelled after the Palais Garnier, most notably the facade and Great Hall.
- The Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (1909) was also modeled after Palais Garnier, particularly and Great Hall and stairs.
- The Amazon Theatre in Manaus (Brazil) built from 1884 to 1896. The overview is very similar, though the decoration is more simple.
- The Hanoi Opera House in Vietnam is considered to be a typical French colonial architectural monument in Vietnam, and it is also a small-scale replica of the Palais Garnier. TheSaigon Opera House is a smaller counterpart.
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