Enfin, Paris!: The Garnier, interior

“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.”

-Maria Callas

Wow. What a quote. The opera of her imagination. I often think of Visconti‘s films when I think of opera. It is that grand scale. The epitome of theatre: book, music, actors, sets, costume. And housed in these incredible buildings. World capitals, and a within a way of life so removed from this century. Although, Americans tried to do it with places like the Fox in Atlanta in the 20th century.

The Garnier exterior, which I covered a while back, is as different as the interior. Callas’ quote transports me from the open theaters of the Akropoli and Bergama, to the lavishness of le Palais Garnier. Our tradition of theater brings us from open air Greek arenas and masks to places like the Garnier, where the theater began before you even got inside the performance.

“Beaux-Arts architecture depended on sculptural decoration along conservative modern lines, employing French and Italian Baroque and Rococo formulas combined with an impressionistic finish and realism. . .

Slightly overscaled details, bold sculptural supporting consoles, rich deep cornices, swags and sculptural enrichments in the most bravura finish the client could afford gave employment to several generations of architectural modellers and carvers of Italian and Central European backgrounds. A sense of appropriate idiom at the craftsman level supported the design teams of the first truly modern architectural offices. “


I will keep these photos full scale, just to illustrate the enormity

You begin your ascent, past plaster and artificial light

And you stand at the base of the Grand Staircase

You stop for a moment examining the overly dramatic sculpture

Then you begin to look up

And then, as you look up . . .

My first thought is being on the floor level of the Hagia Sophia and looking up, or what they tried to do in the great hallway of the Venetian or Caesar’s Mall in Vegas. It is being in Manhattan and cranking up your neck to look up and see the tops of building as you are sequestered to judge their beauty from the canyon floor. You are led through a systemof spaces from small to larger to massive, with these amazing delicate curves! Which is the difference between Rococo and  Baroque. Image going to the Opera, when this is loaded with people!

I’m astounded just looking up at this stuff.

Layers of detail built upon detail, like puzzles.

Look at the detail in these mosaics, bottom round left in the Avante Foyer (see map below).

To come from plaster and terrazzo on the lower level to stone carving and these beautiful and subtle mosaic. Not to placedrop, the most beautiful mosaic floors I can remember are those in Istanbul in the floor museum of the Grand Palace or the actual existing mythological floors in the Summer Palace in Russia. These must have advanced the use of mosaic in places like St. Louis and Chicago. I remember some in New York, but I’ll bet it is gone. New Yorkers sometimes have that habit, that ripping up the old and remodeling makes you more “modern.”

Amazingly, the French must be on this all that glitters kick. Le Grand Foyer was cut off at points to be able to walk through. It remains a working theater and tables were set up. Not to commit suicide (seeing the Aquarium at Palais de la Porte Dorée, Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie at la Villette and Musée Rodin on this day), I looked in and shot some, but my real interest was the Avant Foyer, the hallway adjacent to it.

Avant Foyer, where I did most of my shooting, and Le Grand Foyer next to it, are really exceptional in detail and rival Versailles, but the purpose of this “palace” is concerned with theater and the business of theater.

The Avant Foyer, the hallway leading into the Grand Foyer is still part of the open area which contains Le Grand Escalier, the great staircase, and the detail and beauty of this area is exceptional to me.

There is also the wonderful Rotonde du Soliel (above left), the circular room off the Avant Foyer.

But the best is for last, and that is the auditorium. What luck, Matt came and got me and said it is open. You were stuck in a small area, but people were polite and wonderful, and everyone took their time nicely and shot and/or looked and it was something.

I have never been a great lover of his work, but the Chagall painting was a pleasant surprise, I have put it up a few times so you can see it. It was a perfect counterpoint to the Beaux-Arts style and color, though some hate it and curse André Malraux, who commissioned it. I could not find a name, but one article about Malraux referred to it as  a “Tribute to famous composers.”

Can you believe you are in this place and it is huge? Several stories high, and these spectacular staircases. The Grand Escalier, the great staircase, like in the old Lon Chaney movie (still below, photocapture)! If you have never seen the film the set design is actually pretty good.

Image you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world (for me, Paris). For a small fee, you get to stomp around one of the most beautiful interiors of that city. As I sit at home looking over shots, remembering, I am astounded by the beauty of surfaces and spaces.

Well, the Phantom doesn’t really live there. Garnier is long gone, and they no longer do operas there. But I have said so before, and will say it again: I am lucky. Walking inside the Garnier, will never be an exception! I hope if you are in Paris, you get to see it, and experience it yourself.


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