Fenton & White Go To The Opera Garnier

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THE FACADE OF THE PALAIS GARNIER ONLY HINTS AT THE SPLENDOUR OF THE INSIDE

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For our Sunday morning excursion, we started with breakfast at a boulangerie with freshly baked pain au chocolat, a strong coffee and some baguette traditional with jam and butter.  Our first stop was the Palais Garnier which houses the opera house that Gaston Leroux made famous in his novel The Phantom Of The Opera.

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PETE WAITS FOR THE TOUR TO START IN THE PAVILLON DES ABONNES

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We opted to take an guided tour in English.  We learned a lot of fascinating things.  Construction began on the building in 1861 and the grand opera house was inaugurated in 1875.  It is an elaborate series of corridors, alcoves and foyers which allows large numbers of people to move freely, come and see the opera, and more importantly, be seen attending the opera.  The Pavillon des Abonnes pictured above was originally an area for subscribers to the opera to gather.  They could come directly from their carriages into the opera house and visit before ascending one of the grand staircases to the performance hall.

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IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY YOU CAN SEE THE LETTERS OF THE ARCHITECT CHARLES GARNIER IN THE SCROLL WORK ABOVE THE PAVILLON

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In December of 1860, Napoleon III put out a notice that there would be a competition to find the architect for a new opera house.  On the tour, the guide showed us drawings of several of the submissions … some grand, some more traditional, but it was Charles Garnier’s Beaux Arts design that won.  Throughout the building the name and image of the architect is cleverly woven into the sculpting and adornments of the floors, walls and ceilings.  In the above picture you can locate (sometimes in reverse) the letters of his name, as well as the year 1875 which was the year the opera house opened.

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AS ONE CLIMBS THE GRAND STAIRCASE, THERE IS A SENSE OF WALKING INTO A PLACE OF WEALTH AND POWER

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The grand foyer is approached by a stairway that features no less than 11 types of marble.  It is lit in a way that makes everything glow, and indeed the shades of marble were meant to provide a neutral enough background that the evening gowns of the women would show off to best effect, but the upper marble had tones of pink that would give warmth to the cheeks  of the attendees to make them look in good health.   Aside from getting facts and details about the space,  the tour also provides access to the orchestra level of seating with the ability to stare straight up towards a certain chandelier that was infamous in Sir Lloyd Weber’s adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera.  In the musical the chandelier crashed to the stage at each performance.

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THE SEATS IN THE OPERA GARNIER ARE PLUSH AND COMFORTABLE

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Sitting in the opera house, you are surrounded by a sea of red velvet and gold.  Above the main level are the boxes which each have separation walls facing at an angle towards the stage.  They seat 6-8 people each, and in the late 1800s could be rented yearly.  If you rented a box you were given a key that allowed access 24 hours per day for the entire year, regardless of if a performance was happening or not.  These boxes were used for secret meetings, affairs of the heart, and of course,  for attending the opera.

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THE OPERA HOUSE SEATS 1979 PATRONS

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The unusual shape of the partitions between the boxes have resulted in a nick-name … they are known as the bath tubs, for from a distance, it appears that you could fill them with water, and recline into the rear part of the stall, like a giant old-fashioned bath.

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THE CHAGALL FRESCO ON THE CEILING IS CONTROVERSIAL

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The dome of the opera house has a remarkable fresco created by Marc Chagall.  It was unveiled in 1964 and immediately caused controversy.  Many thought it was too modern and bright. The canvas covers 2600 square feet and is in sections that are stretched on frames.  Within the vibrant painting are the names and images of many composers, actors and dancers.  The original fresco from the late 1800s still exists in the dome above the painting, but is badly damaged due to the soot from what was originally candles and then oil in the original chandeliers near the roof.

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THIS CHANDELIER WEIGHS 7 TONS

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While the Gaston Leroux story was a fiction, there were elements of the story that were inspired by true incidents.  While the chandelier has never fallen from the ceiling, in 1896, a counterweight from the chandelier fell from above the dome and through the ceiling and killed a worker.   We were assured that the chandelier is firmly anchored and will not fall.

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THE MOSAIC TILES ON THE FLOOR ARE REMARKABLE

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The artistry of the building is truly stunning.  This is a small corner of a mosaic floor in one small section of the building.  Mosaic floors are abundant, with literally millions of pieces of mosaic used throughout.  But it is when you look up that things get really amazing.

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THIS CEILING IS ENTIRELY MADE UP OF MOSAIC TILES

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One can only imagine how much work went into creating the elaborate patterns of the mosaic roofs in the various foyers of the opera house.  While many of the ceilings have paintings, others have fantastic mosaics in rich colours.

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DISPLAY CASES SHOW OFF SAMPLES OF THE BEAUTIFUL COSTUMES WORN DURING PERFORMANCES

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THIS ROOM RIVALS VERSAILLES FOR EXTRAVAGANCE

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The Grand Foyer features chandeliers, golden columns and ceilings painted by Paul Baudry.  It is a place that fills one with wonder.  The opera house is used over 200 days a year, and attending a concert here must be an extraordinary experience from the time you arrive.

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IN THE CENTRE OF THIS PICTURE (JUST BELOW THE ROOF LINE)  IS A BUST WITH A SILVERY FACE … IT IS CHARLES GARNIER.

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THE VIEW FROM THE TERRACE OUTSIDE THE GRAND FOYER IS QUITE LOVELY

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Our tour of the opera house was capped by going back into the theatre and watching a small segment of a music rehearsal for the mixed dance program that was happening that night.   It was a thrill to note that one of the choreographer/dancers on the bill for the evening was Canada’s own Crystal Pite.  We made our way out onto the streets at around 12:30 and decided it was time to go for lunch.

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ON A WEEKEND THE STREETS ARE FILLED WITH PEOPLE STROLLING CASUALLY ALONG

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We made our way to 24 Rue des Francs Bourgeois to a restaurant called Camille.  The day was warm, the ambiance was perfect with a crowded street to watch, three street performers playing jazz just down from the restaurant, and of course, a glass of wine to get us ready for our lunch.

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THE STREET ALSO HAS COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

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While we waited, this gentleman rode past, and then posed for pictures for free with families and children.

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THESE WERE ENORMOUS SNAILS

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  I ordered an amazing carpaccio dish, while Pete tried the Burgandy snails in garlic and basil butter. After a leisurely lunch it was time to stroll the streets of Paris to our next destination.

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Tomorrow … a tale of two museums.

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Fenton & White

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