May 20, 2019, Paris, France
Thoughts Heading Into the Day
I was excited for the Paris Opera House tour because I love Phantom of the Opera and I knew it was the inspiration for much of the story’s setting. I wondered if our tour guide would tell us what parts of the story were true, and if we would be allowed to tour under the stage or backstage where the Phantom lived. I have always been intrigued by opera house box seats and was hoping we would get to tour those as well. I also wondered what the cost of a ticket was and how affordable going to the Opera was for the community.
Paris Opera House
The Opera House guided tour was wonderful! I learned so much. The Paris Opera House, also known as the Palais Garnier in memory of its architect, Charles Garnier, is stunning. Opulence, in this case, is in its rightful place. It was built from 1861-1875 and was the residence of the Paris Opera until 1989 when a new opera house, the Bastille Opera House, was built. Today is it used mostly for ballets, but it is still considered to be the most famous opera house in the world, and was, at the time of its construction, Europe’s biggest stage.
As we entered the Paris Opera House, I was surprised to see white neon lights in a blue lit room. But we learned that this is the 350th Anniversary of the Opera House and they are mixing some modern works with the old decor. Somehow these lights were supposed to make you think of pagan feasts and rural French life instead of stage sets. But they did not do that for me. They felt totally out of place, as did the two huge golden tractor tires atop the beautiful multicolored marble staircase. These golden tires are supposed to represent the symmetry of the opera house, but again I did not see it. The tires did, however, remind me of rural America.
Here are some facts I learned about the Grand Staircase:
- 72 types of marble comprise the walls, two types are on the stairs
- all the marble was brought by boat
- there are colors throughout the marble
- they never have to repair the marble because it does not move
- because it’s all stone, there are no paintings, but musical symbols were inlaid in the stone
- the staircase was the place to be seen; if you waited long enough you could walk slowly and be seen by people on the stairs as well as in the balconies.
The Foyer is a mix of gold leaf and paintings as well as mosaics. It looks like a room full of gold. I was quite taken with the doorknobs that are also covered in gold leaf and paintings. From the foyers there are balconies that overlook the city. You can also see the Louvre at the far end. A disturbing fact that we learned is that 900 houses were destroyed to create the view of the Louvre.
Next, we entered the library, which I thought was a unique and wonderful feature of the opera house. The library:
- houses 750,000 books
- has preserved three centuries of theater memories
- has permanent exhibitions of paintings, drawings, photographs, and 3D models of sets. Unfortunately, we were not able to see any of these.
The Auditorium was my favorite part of the Paris Opera House. It is breathtaking. I could see why it became the model for Italian style-theatre and is considered Garnier masterpiece. The red velvet seats and the gold leaf metallic structures throughout are strategically placed to draw the eye from balcony to balcony and finally to the stage. They were setting up for a performance, so we were not allowed to take pictures of the stage or walk on or near it. However, we did find out that there is water under the stage, and it was the inspiration for the Phantom of the Opera’s living quarters. Garnier put a cistern into the design to control ground water from coming in during construction. The cistern relieved the water pressure and served as a reservoir in case of fire. Our tour guide told us it actually helps support the stage, mostly likely because it is supporting the basement walls.
I was surprised to learn that the Opera House has performances 350 days of the year. It also has to be scheduled four years in advance for performances, so they have time to figure out and make the costumes. The opera house makes all their costumes, and either reuses them or displays them, but never discards them. I was glad to hear this and enjoyed viewing some of their costumes in glass cases while we were there.
Surprisingly the box seats, where all the royalty sat, were the worst seats for seeing the stage, but the best seats for being seen. In general, we were told people came to the opera to be seen, not to view the performance. If you had a box seat that meant you had money. Ladies were seated downstairs because their hats made it difficult to see and their bustles made it difficult to sit. In addition, they were not allowed to sit by men they did not know. Middle class people, and men, had floor seats because wax dripped from the chandelier. Ugh. We were also shown the door with “lodge number 5” on it, the phantom’s private balcony hideout.
A beautiful crystal chandelier adorns the ceiling today surrounded by a 1964 painting by Marc Chagall. The ceiling is a mix of modern and classic styles and was commissioned to attract new people. The original ceilingwas a 19thcentury mythical painting and covering it up caused quite a stir.
Tickets are affordable depending on location. The tickets range in price from 12-230 euros. The €12 seats, however, have a limited view, or no view at all, because they are behind seats in a narrow box seat section. I was wishing we could go explore those seats. Tickets are also sold at a discount the day of performances.
Our group had tickets to see the Eiffel Tower the same day, but because some crazy guy attempted to scale the tower, they closed it. Our directors gave us a free evening instead. I was disappointed, but my roommate Wendy had Plan B. On the study aboard we are never to be alone, so we always go in pairs. Wendy asked me to go with her to drop something off to her daughter, Emma. Since the Eiffel Tower was near her daughter we would stop and visit it on the way! I was excited, and I was well rested for change thanks to Wendy. She squealed on me and told the directors how exhausted I was this morning, (due to late nights of homework and the emotional stress from a family matter), so they took me back to the hotel to sleep after the Paris Opera House tour. I was embarrassed and did not want to go, but I was grateful they made me. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, even though I missed the Galleries Lafayette.
It was a beautiful evening when we walked past the Eiffel Tower. I will never forget the way the tower looked in the evening light or Wendy’s thoughtfulness in going out of her way so that I might see this iconic landmark of France. She knew just where to go to get the perfect pictures too. I got some fun pictures and video of me with Eiffel in the background. The tower was both massive and elegant. I could just imagine what the tower would look like lit. We could not stay late enough to see that, but just seeing it in the dusk of evening was enough.
I was also privy to other views of the Eiffel Tower that evening as it was literally the view from Emma’s neighborhood, and the view out the window in her flat. We topped our Eiffel Tower evening off with gelato in three flavors shaped like flowers. It was delicious.
Takeaways From the Day
The Paris Opera House was one of my favorite tours. Seeing a performance there would have topped it off. Again, I was struck by such beauty and opulence in a time period when all the craftsmanship was done by hand and took great effort just to get the materials to the site. The ingenuity of the architect also struck me, especially designing the cistern under the stage. I cannot imagine such a thing happening today, and yet there it still stands centuries later. The creativity, on every level, is what amazed me most about the Paris Opera House. The performances are not just the work of the actors and directors, but also the work of the architects, designers, costumers, writers, musicians, and artists–past and present–who have worked or work behind the scenes to make the Paris Opera House what it is today.
Sleep really does work wonders, and I definitely need more of it. I was not expecting the compassion I was shown today by my directors, or my roommate, nor did I recognize it as such, at first. Compassion is one the Savior’s greatest attributes, and today it was extended to me when I needed it most. I think I got a taste of what those in the scriptures may have felt when the Savior extended compassion to them. I had a new sense of self, and new love for those around me because of it. It also reminded me of the second great commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:39). This is exactly what my roommate Wendy did for me, and I will always remember her kindness fondly.