The Paris opera is a baroque example
of neoclassicism: It has an ornamented facade, monumental
stairs and Italian type hall with Chagall paintings on
the ceiling. Maria Callas and Rudolf Noureev are among
the many artists who wrote its history as one of the world
foremost scenic stages for opera and ballet alike. Since
the opening of the Opéra Bastille in 1989, the
Opéra Garnier is devoted to ballets..
Construction started in 1861 and lasted for 14 years. The massive works were slowed down by the discovery of a water table that had to be drained before building an enormous concrete well designed to carry the gigantic stage and fly tower. The well was filled with water in order to counter the water pressure (hence the legend of the underground lake popularized by Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera). The 1870 Franco-Prussian war and the Commune interrupted the construction works, but the fire at the old opera in the Rue Le Peletier in 1873 hastened the completion of the monument. It was officially inaugurated during the Third Republic by Field Marshall de Mac-Mahon on 5 January 1875.
The building, which is a perfect example of 19th century stage architecture, hides its iron frame under flamboyant decoration. The overall impression is harmonious in spite of the diversity of its inspiration and the temes taken up by Charles Garnier. He personally supervised the integration in the architecture of decorative works entrusted to sculptors, painters and mosaic artists representative, as himself was, of state-sponsored artists.
From 1881 down to the present day, several restoration and modernization programmes have made the theatre increasingly functional without lessening its appeal as a monument: technical progress and the evolution of sets under the influence of "verism". The next step was the building of a modern and popular opera house: Opera Bastille.