I didn't think I'd want to check out Palais Garnier…
… until I actually saw it.
It's my birthday tomorrow (!) and I'm so happy this is what I'm writing about this time of the month. Like I said in my previous post about Paris landmarks and my Hop On, Hop Off adventures, I never really thought much about the Palais Garnier until it was right smack in front of me.
I was compelled to hop off and make my way around the perimeter of the building, and vowed to go back a couple of days later to take the full tour.
What got me about this building is that it was the setting to "Phantom of the Opera." Something about mixing history with fiction always sparks my interest (probably why I love period pieces so much), and I thought that it was so cool that this building was important enough to have spurred someone to fashion an entire story about malevolent goings-on within its walls and foundation.
It's cool (for nerds like me) to see how reality inspires fiction—to figure out how much of it is made up and how much of it is tangible. It also helped that the last Phantom movie (with Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler) was pretty faithful in using this very building as its setting.
Built in the mid-1800s, the Palais Garnier is relatively young compared to all the other buildings you'll find around Paris. The Hop On Hop Off tour does a good job of summarizing its history and how Charles Garnier was picked to design it.
The self-guided tour starts out in one of the low-ceiling areas beneath the main floor. The dimly lit area (pardon my lighting!) was round in orientation with a lot of statues in niches. There were also a lot of benches around the area which was useful because this is where you pick up your headset and get yourself sorted before starting the walking tour through the massive building.
What is the Palais Garnier without its grand staircase? As soon as I stepped out into this space, I could hear and picture "Masquerade" from Phantom (the cheese never wears off, I swear). The tour calls your attention to the different statues, the materials used, and even to the artwork adorning the ceiling.
It's hard not to get swept up in all the dramatic curves and filigree that adorns this neo-Baroque space—which is fair, since that's likely the mood Garnier wanted to tease and prompt out of the audience as they head up toward the amphitheater before a big show.
The tour leads you eventually to an opening that gives you a peek into the main theater (which is of course, the whole point of the building). I loved Marc Chagall's painting! Juxtaposed against the severe gold and super rich red that dominate the theater, his dreamy, ethereal Parisian forms; and yellow, blue and red hues bring the entire space up to (relatively) modern times. Created in the 60s, it adds a layer of freshness to what could otherwise be called a pretty stuffy, old-timer space.
If you're a Phantom fan, this would be where the fictional chandelier would be hanging, the crash of which kickstarts the entire story.
There was some kind of set up going on when I managed to take a photo of the theater, so forgive the blurriness. How amazing would it be to actually watch a show in this space? I'm not an opera fan but I wouldn't mind seeing a show in a place built specifically for the art form. Also, much credit should be given to the trompe l'oeil effect on that curtain.
Outside the amphitheater, you'll find a series of doors that lead to the different opera boxes. I had to sit myself at one of the benches again because absorbing all that information really can take a toll!
The Phantom has a special sign on his door down the far left corner of the hall. According to the story, it's from this box that he watches protege Christine Daaé perform (creepy, yes).
*Again, pardon the blurriness—I was too wrapped up in being there to even notice how my photos were turning out.
Apart from being an opera house, the Palais Garnier had also a number of other functions. Several rooms were used by ballerinas to train, and certain spaces were also used to host guests during intermissions. Because the building is primarily an academy, all its decor and art pay some kind of tribute to the arts—you'll see a number of lyres up on the ceiling.
The long span of the building is bookended by two small, circular rooms that pay tribute to the sun, moon and stars. Check out the celestial ceiling on this one—so gorgeous!
You can't go to the opera house and not walk out into its exterior, which gives a stunning view of the plaza named after it. The corridor frames the surrounding buildings so beautifully.
(PS: If you walk way down to the end of the building and crane your neck, you'll get a glimpse of Galeries Lafayette!).
When you're in the same city for a couple of days, you can become desensitized to all the sites. The shock that your first time seeing the Eiffel Tower brings, for example, can pretty much wear off after a couple of days. Being at the Palais Garnier was like giving my system a big jolt, reminding me that I made it to Paris and that I should savor every second of it.
While I wouldn't give the tour a second go, my next trip to the city did prove that I still have to stop and look up whenever I get off the Opera Metro stop and see this building before me.
8 Rue Scribe