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The Opera House that Almost Wasn’t — Le Palais Garnier in Paris

One of the main performing arts venues for opera, ballet and modern dance is Le Palais Garnier in Paris.

The Opera House that Almost Wasn’t — Le Palais Garnier in Paris

By Veronica Shine

Above: Facade of Le Palais Garnier


Non-aficionados of the opera are familiar with the 1,900 plus-seat landmark theater. Tourists are in awe by its fine example of Beaux-Arts. The Palais Garnier is a prime stop on numerous sightseeing tours.

Palais_Garnier2.gifChandelier at the Palais Garnier [Photo by Minor Keys]

Even those who never visited the “City of Light” are acquainted with the Palais Garnier through Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, written in 1910.

Leroux was a frequent visitor and explored the backstage areas and inner sanctions. One tragedy aided in his literary work, and Leroux took poetic license in his novel, when a portion of a chandelier fell and killed one of the opera patrons.

The Palais Garnier has gone through several name changes since its opening. Many simply refer to it as the Paris Opéra.

The Palais Garnier’s history began as part of the great improvement projects instrumented by Napoleon III and Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Napoleon III formulated a competition in search of an architect to design the structure to rival any of the existing opera houses in Italy.

Palais_Garnier4.gifThe Grand Stair [Photo by Steven Zucker]

Charles Garnier, a relatively unknown with limited on-hands experience, was awarded the project in 1860. Construction was disrupted by various incidences, including the back up of water from the aquifer, lack of funding, the Franco-Prussian War and the demise of Napoleon III’s Empire.

The incomplete structure was used in part as a storage warehouse for food supplies. Residents wanted it to be demolished since it represented a fallen empire.

Garnier persevered and continued by utilizing new techniques to architecture design. He disliked metal but knew he needed to use these materials in the building’s construction. However, he carefully concealed the metal from view. For cost saving measures, he used the innovative “gilding effect” to replace traditional gold leaves.

When finally launched 15 years later, Fromental Halévy’s La Juive was the inaugural production on January 5th, 1875 . Audiences noted all the ornamental detailing, including sculptures the renowned composers ablaze in bronze and paintings illustrating musical symbols. Equally compelling, the Grand Staircase, which leads into the multi-level theater, is a show-stopping feature measured by its marble of various hues.

Palais_Garnier3.gifThe Grand Stair from Below [Photo by Steven Zucker]

At the entrance, immense mirrors allow patrons to become a part of the building’s interior décor. The vast and richly decorated foyers set the audience’s stage with pleasing scenes to stroll through during intermission.

The fortitude of creativity Charles Garnier shown in his design of the Palais Garnier served as a prototype for other worldwide structures. Examples include The Juliusz Slowacki Theatre in Krakow, Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, The Jefferson Building in Washington D.C., and National Opera House of Ukraine in Kiev.

Charles Garnier’s ultimate determination was to make the Palais Garnier a palace. Unquestionably he succeeded in his goal.

Veronica Shine

Planning a Visit:

The Palais Garnier is located on 281 Rue Saint-Denis in the district known as the Place de l’Opéra in the 9th arrondissement.

If driving, there is parking at Place Vendôme.

The venue is best reached via Paris’s fine public transportation.

By Métro: Board line nos. 3, 7, 8 to station Opéra
By RER: The regional “A” train closest station is Auber
By Bus: Ride any bus numbered 20, 21, 22, 27, 29, 42, 52, 53, 66, 6 8, 81, 95 directly to the Palais Garnier

The schedule for performances and events are at the Opéra national de Paris’ web site, which also provides a virtual tour of Palais Garnier. Additional nformation on performances and tours is available at the Palais Garnier’s box office, which is open Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 6:30pm.

Find accommodations near the Palais Garnier at or search for something with more elbow room with a holiday apartment at

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