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Knight Phantom

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Found this this morning. You know me; always interested in all things Phantom!

Opéra Garnier, A Baroque World

Written by Marilyn McFarlane

Published on November 11, 2009 · Print This Article

Filed Under Paris

There really is a lake beneath the old opera house in Paris, just as The Phantom of the Opera says. No phantoms are boating on it, however, as far as anyone knows. The “lake,” which is more like a water-filled hole, has a more mundane purpose; it’s a reservoir used by the city’s pompiers-sapeurs (firefighters).

Opera GarnierThe Opéra Garnier, or Palais Garnier, in the 9th arrondisement, is anything but mundane. It’s huge, grandiose, and over-the-top opulent, and a Paris sight not to be missed. It took 14 years to build and was the world’s largest theater when it opened in 1875. Operas were performed here until the new (and controversial) Opéra Bastille was built in 1989. Now the Garnier features mostly ballet and modern dance.

Attending a performance is the ideal way to see the Opéra Garnier’s neo-Baroque magnificence — the sumptuous velvet draperies, the gilded statuary, the tangle of corridors, stairwells, alcoves and landings. The ceiling, surrounding a 6-ton chandelier, was painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall. This too was controversial, as Chagall’s work is a contrast to the rest of the grand décor. It’s intricate and festive, though, with a charm of its own.

Opera Garnier ceilingIf you can’t attend a performance, try to tour the building anyway. It’s open daily except January 1 and May 1. For a fee, visitors can walk up the grand staircase and through the Grand Foyer and see the 2,200-seat auditorium. There, in 1896, a counter-weight for the immense chandelier fell and killed a worker, which partially inspired Gaston Leroux to write his Gothic Phantom novel. Guided tours are available. (Nobody gets to see the subterranean water, though.) There’s also a museum showing costumes from various productions and models of sets.

For lunch before or after a tour or dinner after a performance, several good restaurants are nearby. A few of the best (also, sorry, among the most expensive):

Senderens, on Place de la Madeleine, is famed for its fine cuisine. Alain Senderens “rejected” his three stars from Senderensthe Michelin guide because he felt the rating caused too much pressure and he wanted to offer a simpler, less formal dining experience. But the food and service are still of very high quality. “Le Passage,” the upstairs café-bar, is less pricey than the dining room, though with fewer menu choices.

Drouant has been a favorite dining spot since it opened in 1880. Drouant’s Alsatian chef emphasizes vegetables prepared in imaginative ways and creative, generous appetizers. The prestigious Goncourt Prize in literature is announced here every year.

Le Fontaine Gaillon serves French cuisine, notably well-prepared seafood, in a chic, stylish, arty atmosphere. The actor Gérard Depardieu is one of the owners.

Café de la Paix, designed by Garnier himself, is an institution, still offering its famous onion soup in a brasserie Cafe de la Paixwith an elegant ambience. If you dine on either terrace you are given a lower cost, simpler menu. The outside terrace has a view of Opéra Garnier, and the winter terrace overlooks Boulevard des Capucines.

If you’re yearning for American or Mexican food and lesser prices, the Hard Rock Café will oblige. This lively place, seating 250, has cheeseburgers, fajitas, brownies and ice cream. And there’s always the ubiquitous Starbucks for coffee and pastries. I have never been in a Starbucks in Paris, nor do I intend to, but there are many available in case you are so inclined.

Here is a related post:


A Tale of Two Operas: Paris’ Palais Garnier and Opéra de la Bastille

Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

Published on July 30, 2009 · Print This Article

Filed Under Paris

Paris is home to two world-class opera houses, the historic Palais Garnier and the more contemporary Opéra de la Bastille. Operated under the same organizational umbrella, they offer a variety of spellbinding operatic, orchestral and ballet performances throughout their jam-packed seasons. Music and dance aficionados will be thrilled by performances at either national treasure.

opera-garnierInaugurated in 1875, The Opéra (Palais) Garnier is a 2,200-seat opera house located at Place de l’Opéra in Paris’ 9th arrondissement. It is called Garnier in homage to 19th century architect, Charles Garnier, who designed this Neo-Baroque masterpiece. The opera house has been known by many names. Originally called Académie Nationale de Musique – Théâtre de l’Opéra, it kept this title until it’s renaming in1978 as Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris. When the Paris Opera chose the Opéra Bastille as their principal performance space in 1989, the original opera was again renamed as Palais Garnier.

opera-garnier-ceilingA feast for the eyes, the lavish Palais is decorated with detailed multicolored marble friezes, columns, and statues of Greek mythological characters. There are also numerous bronze busts of many great composers, such as Mozart, Rossini, Daniel Auber, Beethoven, Meyerbeer, Fromental Halévy, Spontini, and Philippe Quinault. The stunning ceiling was painted by Marc Chagal.

Today, Palais Garnier is home of the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the finest companies in the world. During its annual season, the Ballet stages close to 180 performances featuring works by both classic and contemporary choreographers. Most members of the company are in their mid-twenties. Dancers join the Ballet between the ages of 16 and 20 and retire around the age of 42. Nearly all of the company’s dancers are trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School, a world-renowned institution. The 174-member Orchestre de Paris plays in all major performances at the Palais Garnier and the Opéra de la Bastille, which comes close to 280 performances per season.

opera-bastilleOpéra de la Bastille (Bastille Opera) is a contemporary, architecturally striking opera house located at Place de la Bastille in Paris’ 12th arrondissement. It is the principal performance space of the Opéra National de Paris. The opera house has 2,723 seats and features a modern aesthetic with clean lines, steel and glass. It stands on the former site of the Bastille train station (closed in 1969), which was demolished in 1984 to make room for the opera house. Opéra de la Bastille opened on July 14, 1989, the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.

Opéra de la Bastille

67, Rue Lyon

75012 Paris, France

+33 1 43 47 13 22

Metro: Bastille

Palais Garnier – Opéra National de Paris

1, place de l’Opéra, 75009

+33 1 40 01 80 52

Metro: Opéra

edit: to remove wrong link

Edited by Knight Phantom
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I think so! But, aren't you worried that I won't leave? I mean really...that close to my Beloved Erik. And you expect me to leave him?? What would my family say? LOL!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Found this in my mail. Interesting article on the ballet company that lives in the Opera. I'm going to have to find this movie!



'La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet'

'La Danse' is balletic in its portrayal of the art.

Frederick Wiseman's documentary follows the Paris Opera Ballet's dancers from rehearsal to performance. (Zipporah Films / November 18, 2009)


November 20, 2009

Bodies in motion tend to remain in motion, but almost never with the heart-stirring beauty and grace on view in Frederick Wiseman's exceptional portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet, "La Danse."

Wiseman has been making his kind of quiet but potent documentaries for decades. "La Danse" is his 36th, following looks at institutions as varied as the Idaho state legislature, a Chicago public housing development and the Neiman Marcus department store.

As a director, Wiseman's approach is unvarying. He simply looks and observes, avoiding voice-over, talking heads, any kind of obvious framing devices. Made with their own rhythms and internal logic, his films don't build in any conventional way but their cumulative impact is always formidable.

The Paris Opera Ballet proves to be one of his most accessible, seductive subjects, allowing for an enchanting blend of subject and filmmaker. "La Danse" takes you inside the essence of dance in a way few films can, not even Wiseman's 1995 "Ballet," a look at the American Ballet Theatre. If you don't already swoon over this art form, this film will make you wonder what took you so long.

The Paris Opera Ballet takes on both contemporary and classic dance and is housed in the grand Palais Garnier, the setting of "The Phantom of the Opera." Perhaps in tribute, "La Danse" opens with a quiet shot of an underground chamber that subtly echoes the classic Lon Chaney silent film.

Upstairs in the building's rehearsal spaces, with light pouring in from the great circular windows, the mood is completely different. This is the realm of the young and vital dancers, individuals who carry themselves with a certain esprit, an undeniable sense of being at the top of their game.

"La Danse" observes these people intently, watching as they stretch in practice togs and perform on stage in elaborate costumes. But it mostly watches them while they are at their most intimate and intense, which is during the rehearsal process, working by themselves, with other dancers or receiving precise instructions from choreographers.

To be so up close with the dancers is to understand what makes ballet such an elevated form of human activity. Wiseman's structure and the great work of cinematographer John Davey show us the uncanny precision and beauty these individuals are capable of, as well as making us understand fully the cliché that the dancers' instruments are their bodies.

As its objective is to reveal the organization whole, "La Danse" shows us more than performance. We are taken inside the café and the costume shop and watch the creation of hair and makeup that has to be just so. We also spend time with Brigitte Lefèvre, the company's all-business artistic director, seeing the problems and situations she has to contend with.

Yet, as it should, "La Danse" always returns to the dancers. The end credits tell us the titles of the ballets danced and the names of the performers and choreographers involved, which is a good thing because unless you are deeply involved in ballet, you won't recognize them. Which is, one suspects, exactly Wiseman's point.

Like artists and institutions (the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, for one) who believe that titles just get in the way, the filmmaker wants you to concentrate on what these people are doing, not who they are. It's a measure of how well "La Danse" succeeds that past a certain point we cease to care about identification and focus on the wonders to be seen. Artistic director Lefèvre quotes choreographer Maurice Béjart's definition of a ballet dancer as "half nun, half boxer," and it is the triumph of Wiseman's method, and this film, that it shows what he meant.


Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Edited to add another review of "La Danse"


‘La Danse' a treat for ballet fans

By Robert Horton

Herald Movie Critic

Frederick Wiseman is one of the most esteemed names in documentary film, a director known for surveying different institutions from top to bottom: hospitals, legal systems, governments.

The approach is strict. There are no interviews with talking heads, no narration or explanatory titles, no music that isn't already in the scene. Wiseman doesn't tell stories, exactly; he exposes systems.

If “La Danse” sounds lighter than his usual fare, it is, but it's no less controlled and disciplined in its approach. The subject is the venerable Paris Opera Ballet, a famed dance company.

This affords Wiseman many opportunities to depict dancers, both in rehearsal and final performance. But he also sticks to his style, which is to eavesdrop on the artistic director's meetings, to look in on the costume crew and to listen to a union rep describe the complicated retirement plans for dancers — whose careers will probably be over by the age of 40.

Sometimes his camera glances down the staircases and hallways of the Palais Garnier, the “old” opera building in Paris — at one point peeking into the watery caverns beneath it, a sight familiar to fans of the many incarnations of the Phantom of the Opera.

But the greatest concentration is on dancers dancing and this is superb. Most sequences show the dancers in full frame — no cutting to close-ups or body parts — as they work out their routines in real time.

Later, during stage performances, Wiseman actually allows a few dramatic camera moves, in reaction to the drama on stage — in one case, a stunning ballet of “Medea,” the scene depicting the title character murdering her children.

Earlier, we have heard the choreographer of this piece tell his dancers about the emotion of a certain move by invoking “X-Men” characters. Well, whatever works.

The pieces, which we see in a jumbled order with no apparent plan, are a mix of modern and classical works. Like everybody else, the dancers are unidentified, which gives a strong sense of the ballet company as one big organism.

If you don't care about dance, I suspect this film's seemingly formless 138 minutes will feel like a very long slog, even if you can appreciate the way Wiseman sizes up the different levels of institutional activity.

But if you like dance, and you don't need a story to carry you along, it'll keep you rapt.

“La Danse”

The esteemed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes his camera inside the Paris Opera Ballet company, bringing his fly-on-the-wall style (no narration, no interviews) to the various levels of the institution. If you don't care about dance, this will be a long 138 minutes, but otherwise the lengthy scenes of rehearsal and performance are fascinating.

In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated, probably PG-13 for subject matter

Edited by Knight Phantom
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Deb, thank you so much for the beautiful posts. I know how you would feel. being that close to Erik- :yummy::erik: I will never go, at leat not in this life but I can dream. And your post made it come alive. Erik has been a part of my heart for the past year and 1/2 since I first saw POTO, and it only gets more so as time passes. :phantom:


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  • 2 months later...

Here is an insightful article from today's Telegraph on the Palais Garnier.


Where the Phantom was born: the Palais Garnier

The underground lake; the deadly chandelier; the buried corpse...where do myth and reality overlap at the Garnier Opera House?

By Lucinda Everett

Published: 5:32PM GMT 17 Feb 2010

It began with the water. In 1861, Parisian workers attempting to lay the concrete foundations for a grand, 2,200-seat opera house in the centre of the city were baffled. The theatre had been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III as part of his sweeping reconstruction of Paris, and 12,000 square metres of ground had been cleared. Yet a seemingly endless flow of water bubbled up from the swampy, newly cleared ground – and no one could do anything to stem it.

Thirteen years later, in 1874, architect Charles Garnier’s neo-baroque masterpiece, Le Palais Garnier, was finally complete. But rumours of a vast, fish-filled lake swirling beneath the building endured.

One Parisian who grew up with the rumour was the detective writer Gaston Leroux and in 1910 he would use it as the inspiration for his gothic love story The Phantom of The Opera.

In fact, historical and fictional events are so blurred in Leroux’s story that he was able to claim in his prologue (and on his death bed) that ‘the Opera ghost really existed’ – a claim that has left the Paris Opera, as it is now known, shrouded in mystery ever since.

Pierre Vidal, curator of the Palais Garnier’s museum and library, is more familiar than most with the myth of the Phantom’s watery lair but admits that the reality is rather less exciting.

He says the ‘lake’ is actually a huge, stone water tank created by the construction team after numerous failed attempts to pump the site dry. ‘The pressure of the water in the tank stops any more rising up the through the foundations, and the weight of the tank stabilises the building,’ he explains.

Today, the tank (which is covered, except for a small grate) is used by Paris’s fire fighters to practise swimming in the dark. And while Vidal concedes that the cellars are large enough to contain a makeshift home, they actually house the building’s technical rooms.

Olivia Temple, who looks after the archive of Maria Bjornson (the late designer of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original West End stage production), visited the Palais Garnier’s cellars in 2005 and understood immediately how they could have inspired Leroux. ‘It was completely convincing that somebody could have lived down there,’ she recalls.

‘There were alcoves and arches that I’m sure had passageways that very few people would have bothered to explore. And it’s bound to stretch out under the streets of Paris and join up with other watery cellars. Somebody like the Phantom could have had the run of it.’

But Temple admits they have lost a lot of their eeriness. ‘Because of health and safety rules, there are rather horrid bright lights down there now,’ she explains. ‘It has definitely washed away the gloom of those netherworld regions and you don’t get the feeling of what it must have been like when it was just lit with candles.’

Further inspiration for Leroux’s story came in 1896, when the counterweight from the building’s grand chandelier fell, killing a construction worker. Leroux wove the incident into the novel’s climactic moment, during which Erik (the Phantom) kills an audience member by causing a chandelier to fall during a performance and, in the furore that follows, kidnaps Christine, dragging her down to his underground home.

However, perhaps the most ingenious blending of fact and fiction in The Phantom of the Opera is in the prologue, when Leroux mentions the burying of phonographic recordings in the cellars of the opera house. He explains that, while the cellar is being prepared to house the recordings, a corpse is uncovered that is identified as Erik’s.

There may not have been a body, but the burying of recordings did take place. In 1907, the Gramophone Company sealed 24 records in two containers and locked them in the cellars of the opera house, to be opened 100 years later. In 2007, the containers were opened and the records digitised by EMI, which released the collection as Les Urnes de l’Opera.

Today, many remain unsure where the Palais Garnier’s history ends and Leroux’s story begins, and Vidal regularly receives calls asking him if the story is true. ‘We don’t like to break the illusion,’ he says, ‘but nobody has seen a ghost in the opera house. Although we do blame the “Phantom†as a joke if something inexplicable happens.’

There is, however, one element of Leroux’s story that holds some truth, and which Temple can bear witness to: the Palais Garnier’s water tank is home to a large, white catfish, which is fed by the opera house staff and can be spotted swimming past the open grate from time to time.

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