Built from 1860, the Opéra Garnier is one of the most emblematic buildings in Paris (at least if you count the number of tourists who take selfies in front of it). It’s true that he has a little more character than Bastille. And that unlike Bastille, Napoleon III watched operas there. And what’s more, he has lots of cool little secrets.
1. The special access ramp for Napoleon III
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The opera built by Garnier was commissioned by Napoleon III the day after an attack targeting him at the entrance to another opera house, located rue Le Peletier, on January 14, 1858. Wishing to avoid finishing ad patres, the emperor then decided to order the construction of a new monumental and more secure opera house. Garnier is responsible for the work. For Napoleon III’s safety, he installed a ramp leading directly to the opera on the Rue Scribe side. This ramp, reserved for the emperor, allowed him direct access to the opera house without leaving his cab, thus minimizing the risk of an attack. But this was not to everyone’s taste and many detractors criticized this personal installation considered unsightly. He farted, Napoleon III.
2. A lake hides in the fifth basement
This artificial lake, built at the start of the works, made it possible to channel the infiltrations of water arising from the unstable ground. It is still used today, although absolutely inaccessible to the public. Another secret of the Parisian underground.
3. The opera has two secret passages
These two guts rise from the fifth basement to lead directly to the fourth floor. One of them has been reconverted into a passage for draining rainwater but the other is still passable although its usefulness is no longer really real.
4. The Sultan’s Elevator
If an elevator makes it possible to connect the hall of the opera to the Rotunda of the subscribers, it is thanks to the sultan Aga Khan III, imam of the Ismailis who financed the construction in the Twenties. Aga Khan was obese and to assemble the two floors cost him too much; he therefore decided to break the bank to allow the installation of this personal lift in the 1920s. The lift then fell into disuse before being renovated and put back into service in 2009 for the benefit of people with disabilities.
5. A doctor at the opera
On average, one person dies every two years at the Opera. The management therefore ensures that at each performance a doctor is in the room. This one is not remunerated but is entitled to two free places for the representation.
6. Pavarotti, a simple guy
Pavarotti, the most famous tenor in the world, has obviously already sung at Garnier. After one of his performances, he defected to a college of opera patrons with whom he was to dine, preferring to eat spaghetti with Garnier’s concierge. It’s understandable, the concierge came from Modena, like him.
7. A grand staircase copied from the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
Garnier had not yet built anything when the imperial power entrusted him with the construction of the Paris Opera. So as not to miss it, he therefore decided to count on sure values, drawing inspiration from the architecture of the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, inaugurated in 1780. It is in particular the interior spaces that will serve as a model for Garnier: an immense entrance hall, dressing rooms, baskets, a dome and above all this large monumental staircase leading to the room and the dressing rooms.
8. The Phantom of the Opera
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Paris Opera was the target of all the theories and all the mysteries. Among the crazy rumors circulating, one concerned the many underground passages of the Opéra Garnier, which were thought to be haunted by spirits. Gaston Leroux made a globuiboulga of all this, was also inspired by the fire that occurred at the Bazaar of Charity in 1897 and therefore wrote this ghost story haunting the corridors of the opera and threatening its spectators.
9. Musicians get paid for 4 hours, after that it’s overtime
And these overtime hours are counted to the quarter of an hour. Intermissions are included in the package, which explains why works that last close to 4 hours sometimes benefit from short intermissions so as not to add additional costs. Is that a good situation, musician?
10. The maximum fee for singers is fixed
In order to avoid overbidding, the directors of the five biggest opera houses in the world (Paris, New York, Milan, London, Vienna) have agreed to set the maximum concealment for singers at 17,000 euros. A wise choice: media stars, including Pavarotti, once received up to 35,000 euros for an evening of singing.