Updated: May 23
The majestic Palais Garnier, emblem of the Second Empire’s taste for exuberance, is one of the most characteristic examples of Eclectic Architecture, a style so praised by the Victorian era’s nouveau riche society.
Profusion and rarity of materials, polychromie and gilding, and a pronounced taste for rich ornamentation create a universe of extravagance, amalgam of historical references and models in the purest Napoleon III tradition.
Dr. Kelly Spearman answered to the group questions such as by how did this extraordinary temple of Terpsichore come to stand in what was until then an area of slums and poverty? There may not have ever been a Phantom larking in the basements but the foundations were constantly inundated by a long-forgotten underground arm of the Seine! And while the poor architect was asked to house in a rather limited surface a ballet school, loggings, endless dressing and rehearsal rooms, decors’ storage space, depots for costumes and props, administration offices, archives and a library he had to somehow manage to include a most spectacular Grand Staircase, splendid vestibules, plunging breathtaking view balconies, fresco covered ceilings, 334 private boxes, not to mention open-air loggias!
Why such waste of precious space given to the public rooms? Because everyone knew very well that the Opera was not just the universe of eyrie ballerinas and commanding divas, but where the rich and might of the day would swarm to see but also to be seen!
The Opera of Paris was the reflection of a society of industrialists, bankers, ruthless real-estate developers and pitiless businessmen wishing to impress their beautifully attired wives while showing-off their jewels-covered mistresses and famous cocottes. The very same ones that would fill-up the neighboring new department stores, the expensive restaurants, the rooms of the nearby famous maisons closes and the exclusive salons of the Grand Hôtel de Paris!