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Iconic Landmarks
January 2020

Opera Garnier, from the depths to the stars

From the hidden lake to the rarely visited roof, unlock the mysteries of Paris’s illustrious Opera house.

Photo credit:

Pipop Boosarakumwadi

The exquisite design of the Opera Garnier is apparent from the first steps inside. The ornate chandeliers, marble staircases and gold detailing form an impressive vision. Ascending the Grand Staircase feels like entering into another world where people attend grand balls in luxurious costumes. Today, though, the audience is a refreshing mix of locals still in jeans or work suits and visitors dressed in designer outfits and diamonds. 

For a performance at Opera Garnier, viewers can settle into private boxes lined with red velvet curtains and plush chairs, or choose a place in the center of the auditorium, which gives an impressive view of Marc Chagall’s famous ceiling painting.

During intermission, audience members mingle in the Grand Foyer, an opulent hall lined with chandeliers, long windows and mirrors. The walls are decorated in gold foil and the ceiling is covered with a painting by Paul Baudry. The room was inspired by famous galleries in the castles of the French classical era. The details of the Grand Foyer echo those in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Chateau.

A full experience of the Opera Garnier starts from the cellars and climbs to the ceilings and roofs, explained Jean-Jacques Serres, storyteller for our Opera Secret Journey. The sewing workshops and the bee hives can also be added to the experience.

Jean-Jacques grew to know the Opera first through the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra National de Paris, the video technology library and museum housed at the Opera Garnier.

“I discovered my passion and then saw performances,” Jean-Jacques explained.

Although the public spaces of the Opera Garnier are breathtaking, the building also houses some hidden secrets. Fifteen meters underneath the stage is the “cabestans” room, which holds the elaborate 19th-century machinery that was once used to manage special effects and many possible backdrops and sets.

Even further beneath the Opera house lies an artificial underground lake, or technically, a giant water tank. Built in 1860, the lake acts as a “ballast” for the opera, helping to balance the heavy weight of the structure and offsetting pressure from the groundwater beneath. This cistern inspired the river and lake “Grange-Batelière” that the author Gaston Leroux created in his novel, “The Phantom of the Opera.” There are even eels, barbels, goldfish and perch in the lake. Paris firefighters regularly dive there to train for underwater rescue missions.

Climb above ground again for the final part of the visit. Backstage at the Foyer de la Dance, which used to be a secret spot for wealthy visitors to meet female dancers. The Atelier de Costume and the Foyer de la Danse are Jean-Jacques’ favorite parts of the Opera house.

The Journey concludes with a glass of champagne at the newly opened Coco restaurant inside the Opera.

After a taste of the Opera Garnier’s rich history, guests can travel across the city to the modern Opera Bastille to experience a backstage immersion into the specific know-how behind every "Métiers d'Art.”

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