When you’re in Paris, a must-see is a tour inside the breathtaking Palais Garnier – the stunning Paris Opera House.
Phantom of the Opera fans will know that this is where French author Gaston Leroux set the story, in the bowels of one of the most spectacular buildings in Paris.
Quick synopsis: Erik is a physically deformed, slightly insane genius who was an architect on the opera building and has the voice of an angel. He lives in the waterways beneath the opera house and sings without being seen. He falls in love with a young opera singer named Christine and teaches her to sing with confidence, all the while hiding himself behind a mask and disappearing into the shadows whenever someone else arrives. The story is iconic and if you don’t know how it ends, make that your next show to see.
Palais Garnier, built over one of the city’s many waterways, is the home of the Paris Opera and the Paris Ballet and was designed by 35-year old architect Charles Garnier, who won a design competition to create this masterpiece. It was built between 1861 and 1875 under Napoleon III, has Chagall paintings on the ceiling and is considered to be the most beautiful opera house in the world.
I booked a behind-the-scenes tour with a wonderful French guide named Rita who brought this awesome building to life, bursting into song at intervals and humming Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as we stood in the very plain basement that belies what is above.
She described the opulent marble building as being like the ballet itself. It starts slowly from this nondescript basement where the ticket office is and builds to a crescendo in the glorious gold leafed room under hanging chandeliers on the third level.
Sadly the dancers were rehearsing so I couldn’t peep through the doors to the stage or see the famous chandelier which weighs six tons, but the galleries are breathtaking to see and imagine yourself being here when it first opened in 1875. Back then everyone in Paris came in their finest clothes and sparkling jewels because there were more gas lights here than in the entire city and they wanted to be seen.
Guided tours run Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11.30 and 2.30 and daily during the school holidays.
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