Popping into Palais Garnier

So, I was in the neighborhood of Paris’s Palais Garnier the other day—you know how that goes, just a weekday drop-by on a free afternoon—and I decided to invest in the 10 euro price to tour the opera house and its museum, since odds are low I’ll be attending a performance of the Paris Opera Ballet there any time in the future. Mind you, I’d love to. And for the next best thing, the chance to see the venue where the POB performs, wander the fabled halls, the glittering, mirror-and-chandelier-filled salon, run my fingers lovingly over one of the red velvet seats in the auditorium, gaze upward at the Marc Chagall ceiling, it would be well worth ten euros.

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Any of my ballet readers will be nodding their heads wisely at the mention of the Paris Opera Ballet, knowing its stellar international reputation, its legendary hold within the dance world since way back. Although ballet in some form had commenced centuries earlier in Italy, it was France’s Louis XIV, himself a dancer, who developed it. He founded the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661, and in 1669, the Academy of Opera. By 1672 it was The Royal Academy of Music, to be later known as simply The Opera. Louis XIV gave the ballet all his support, both personal and financial, and as such, ballet thrived in France. This is why all the ballet terms are in French and not Italian.

Back in those times, ballet companies were merely offshoots of the far more important opera companies and their performances. (And for many years, only men were allowed to dance.) This is why now, particularly in Europe, the term “opera” is tied in with the country’s premier dance companies. It’s not the Paris Ballet, it’s the Paris Opera Ballet, and both the opera and the ballet have performed at the Palais Garnier until 1989, when a second opera house was built (the Opéra Bastille, with more elaborate facilities for the sort of set and production changes required for opera). Today the Palais Garnier is used mostly for ballet productions.

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The Palais Garnier is gorgeous, ornate, sublime, truly palatial. Inside, I took page after page of notes, snapped pics, gathered impressions, immersed myself in the utterly delicious experience of wandering around without any time constraints (the boys in my family had gone to a war museum).

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Fortunate for me, the museum was having an exposition on the Paris Opera Ballet, complete with hundreds of photos, costumes on display, and a viewing room to watch video footage of Paris Opera Ballet performances. What a lovely, lengthy, detailed blog I could write, with all this.

Or not. Because the travels continue. And when you’re a tourist in Europe, you really need to focus on what’s there right in front of you. So, off I go. I’ll let my lame little cell-phone photos tell the rest.

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There are changes forthcoming at the Paris Opera Ballet: recently it has been announced that Benjamin Millepied (former New York City Ballet principal, choreographer for Black Swan) will be taking over as director of dance in October 2014, replacing esteemed director Brigitte Lefèvre. This is a bit of a shock to me, and to a lot of people in the ballet world, I imagine. The Paris Opera Ballet is such an iconic institution and Millepied is… well, he’s based on Los Angeles, he married actress Natalie Portman, he was in on Black Swan and indeed, that’s how I knew his name. Peak success, Hollywood-style. Taking over the Paris Opera Ballet, well… WOW! That’s big. Anyway. Wishing him the best.

And if you’re interested in how to take a ballet class in Paris, check out this blog of mine: http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/ballet-class-in-paris-i-dare-you/

© 2013 Terez Rose

11 thoughts on “Popping into Palais Garnier”

    • Rachel – it was such a ballet person’s paradise. it seemed to me that 85% of the visitors had the same spellbound fascination with ballet and the venue. Really fun to be in that environment. I suppose there was still the generic photo-taking tourist there, checking the Palais Garnier off their list of to-dos while in the area, but hey, they were in and out fast. And I think only the ballet fans went through the exposition. Fun to see others taking as much time as I was. You could tell they were treasuring the experience too.

  1. How gorgeous! I had no clue about the history, how interesting, Thanks for taking a quick moment to blog and share your notes and pics!

    • Tara, it was a great learning experience for me, too. I didn’t know the opera had two venues, and that the second one is mostly for opera (or that is to say, Palais Garnier is mostly ballet). This all did explain to me, however, why I thought I was near the ballet venue that evening in Paris, sitting at a cafe, watching all the arts patrons make their way from the metro to a nearby (out of view, alas) venue.

  2. Terez – love your musings and info and pics. Did you know that the movie Phantom of the Opera used the Palais as its Opera House? Stunning venue.

    • Ooh, Annette, I didn’t know that! So cool. And I’ve never seen the movie before, so onto the Netflix queue it goes!

  3. How wonderful! Even with your lame little cellphone camera I’m in awe of its grandeur! Perhaps one day I’ll be there in person as well!

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