All about the Palais Garnier (L’Opéra de Paris to you and me)

Opera Palais Garnier

QT likes a bit of culture

This article was actually written for another site but they decided not to use it after all the in-depth research I’d done. They’d gone over to publishing interviews only. So dammit, I’ll just put it up on QT. There are some handy hints on booking tickets for the Opéra, because I’ve heard some people have found it a bit of a confusing thing to do? And there’s also a bit of history …

A Bit of History about the Opéra

Completed in 1874 the Paris Opéra, in a city of sumptuous architecture, could be said to be the most sumptuous of all, but who am I to make a statement like that?

It didn’t start well. The foundations of the then Académie Nationale de Musique were unwittingly laid in the middle of a Parisian swamp in 1862 (a stone tank underneath now holds much of the water and stops any more from seeping into the foundations. Clever Andrew Lloyd Webber fans may already know that the tank and associated rumours about it were probably the inspiration for the underground river in the original story of the Phantom of the Opera. These days fire fighters use it to practise swimming in the dark!)

It rises up 17 storeys, seven of which are underground. These seven hold rehearsal rooms, ball rooms, set rooms, miles of corridors that a potential Phantom could have had the run of – but the public don’t get to see it.

The Palais Garnier

The official name for this beauteous beaux-arts building, situated in its own Place at the end of its own avenue in the 9th arrondissement, is the Palais Garnier.

Fascinating fact: the Avenue de l’Opéra leading up to it was the only treeless boulevard in Paris, as a result of an agreement between its architect Charles Garnier and Baron Haussmann to allow an unimpeded view of the Palais.

The building is still commonly known as the Opéra as it was the official home for the Paris Opéra and Paris Opéra Ballet companies until their move to the newly built Opéra Bastille in 1989.

Some stunning features include a domed ceiling painted by Chagall and a seven ton chandelier in the auditorium, whose falling counterweight inspired Gaston Leroux to feature a falling chandelier in his novel Phantom of the Opera. It had actually fallen on a poor construction worker and killed him back in 1896.

Buying tickets for the Opéra

Booking tickets for the Opéra (this advices covers the Opéra Bastille as well) is best done online. Sign up for email alerts and you’ll receive an email in advance of the tickets going on sale. You’ll find that the online tickets appear up to a couple of months before you can buy them at the box office or by phone.

If tickets aren’t available in your price bracket on any given day, try again – more tickets do become available and your patience may well be rewarded.

There’s a wide range of prices. For an idea of these have a look at their price page And another source of tickets is FNAC Tickets Don’t be like me and not realise you’ve requested to pick them up from a FNAC shop before turning up at the event. (I missed a L’Etranger play because of that.)

Beware that some of the cheaper seats in the upper levels don’t actually have views (and are sold as such). These were boxes made to be seen in, with the ability to view the stage being an entirely secondary consideration! And beware that they tend to be uncomfortable with a lack of leg-room in a bench arrangement, rather than an individual seat.

Ticket resale

Try the Bourse d’Echange which gives customers a chance to sell off unwanted tickets. It’s easy to use as it’s run by an outside ticket software company, ZePass. When your ticket is bought you’ll have the opportunity to arrange to meet the seller face to face. Sellers are given a star rating by buyers, which should weed out those who don’t come up with the goods, although the Opéra isn’t liable if the whole thing goes wrong – they’re just an intermediary.

If there are no tickets available, you can sign up for alerts for whenever one comes up. Buying tickets on the night may be problematic – queues start forming an hour or more before the performance begins, and left-over tickets tend to be expensive ones.

Lemaire Opera Glasses 02.12.09

Take a tour of L’Opéra

If you’d like to delve a bit more deeply into the backstage workings of the Palais Garnier, take a tour of the public areas of the building. These tickets are available online, though it’s probably simplest to turn up on the day.

There is quite a comprehensive page on booking on this Palais Garnier visits page

As well as a chance to mount the extremely gorgeous staircase, there’s a permanent exhibition of old opera sets as well as temporary exhibitions to view on your way round. For more insight into the history of the place, the guided tours (in French or English) are apparently very useful. You may be able to view the auditorium although it could be closed to the public for “artistic or technical reasons.”


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