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Opera Garnier in Paris
By:James Scott Bankston

Everyone has their own image of what Paris is and should be, and for some Paris will always be the chief city of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Paris reached levels of opulence in that period that have scarcely been equaled and never surpassed. The crown jewel of Parisian grandeur may well be the Palais Garnier, home to the National Opera of Paris, which was designed by architect Charles Garnier and constructed between 1861 and 1875 on the orders of Napoleon III. This wedding cake of a building was the home to both opera and ballet until the new Opera de la Bastille was completed in 1989. Since 1995, the Bastille has been the site of major operas and some ballets, while the Garnier stages the majority of the ballets and some smaller-scaled operas. The Garnier is also open for tours most days.And is the Opera's Phantom still in residence? No one will say.

Begin your tour by exploring the exterior of the building. You could probably spend hours examining all the statues and carvings on the facade. Up on the roof of the south entrance facade are statues of harmony and poetry, to the left and right, respectively. Further down you'll see busts of Rossini, Beethoven, Mozart and other composers, and below that, medallions of such composers as Bach and Haydn. The statues on the entrance levels represent, from left to right, harmony, instrumental music, idyll, cantata, song, drama, dance and lyric drama. On the west side is the Head-of-State Pavilion, designed as a secure entrance for Napoleon III. Opera offices were located on the north side of the building, while the east side features the Season Ticket Holders' Pavilion.

Proceed through the grand entrance vestibule on the south side and you'll see the Opera Store to the right and the reception office to the left. Continue through the ticket control vestibule to the grand staircase, the most impressive space in the building. Garnier realized that musical performances were only of secondary importance in Paris, that people chiefly went to the opera to see and be seen, so he designed the grand staircase and its adjacent galleries to best accomplish that. Beyond the stairs is a sectional model of the building as well as the floor plans.

Go upstairs to the orchestra level, where you'll see that the Head-of-State Pavilion has been converted into a library, museum and exhibition space.

Head up to the stage, reception and dress circle level. From dress circle numbers 25-27 and 26-28, you can look out into the red and gold auditorium, with its vast stage beyond. Take special note of the 7-ton chandelier and the ceiling painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall.

Walk east to the "Glacier," or refreshments room, which is decorated with busts and Gobelins tapestries. South of this is the Glacier gallery, with panels devoted to each of the 12 months. The gallery is terminated by the circular Salon du Soleil. The corresponding circular Salon de la Lune is located at the west end of the avant-foyer, which is decorated with sculptures and mosaics. South of the avant-foyer is the grand foyer, where opera-goers paraded between acts. The ceiling here is painted with mythological themes. From the grand foyer you can see the loggia, which is inlaid with a large variety of marbles.

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