‘Close your eyes and let the music set you free’ – ‘Music of the Night’, Phantom of the Opéra
As a young girl, I would sit and watch the ballerina in my jewellery box twirling round and round and I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to dance so gracefully. It wasn’t just a jewellery box to me; winding it up and popping open the lid to see her pirouette to the clumsy, almost tinny rendition of Swan Lake gave me such joy. From that moment on I dreamt of attending the ballet one day and envisioned it to be a magical moment.
I decided long ago that my first ballet experience had to be at the Palais Garnier and performed by the Paris Opéra Ballet. Why? Well, the Paris Opéra Ballet was founded more than three centuries ago by Louis XIV and also happen to be one of the world’s greatest and oldest ballet companies. Anyone that knows me well can tell you that not only do I get excited by historical details such as these but I’m also just a little obsessed with Louis XIV and Versailles. Speaking of the Château de Versailles, it’s level of opulence and grandeur can be found at the Palais Garnier, so to me it was the perfect combination and choice.
As soon as I worked out when I could be in Paris again, I checked Garnier’s website hoping that this time I would be in luck. The stars must have been aligned because a performance of La Fille mal gardée fit into my schedule perfectly. I was finally going to the ballet! I was thrilled! Talk about dreams coming true! It certainly was a pinch me moment. Tickets hadn’t even gone on sale yet so as an added bonus, I would be able to pick one of the best seats in the house! If you plan on going to see a performance, I strongly recommend booking your tickets as early as you can so that you can do the same.
La Fille mal gardée is set in provincial France and was inspired by a painting by Pierre-Antoine Baudouins (La Réprimande, 1789). It staged just days before the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and is one of the oldest works in the modern ballet repertoire. I couldn’t have planned it better! It seemed entirely appropriate and meaningful to make this my first ballet, seeing as I would be in Paris for la Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) and because I am so fascinated by that period. Could it get any better than this?
La Fille mal gardée is a charming and amusing story centred around peasants Lise and Colas. They are in love and want to get married but Lise’s widowed mother Simone has already arranged for Lise’s marriage to Alain, the son of a rich landowner. Simone takes every opportunity to stand in the way of the young lovers, trying to prevent their union but they obviously have other ideas. What follows is a comedic tale filled with determination from all parties that will bring a smile to your face and many laughs from the audience. I absolutely loved it. My ballet experience was everything I had hoped for and more. The dancers were amazing, every move so graceful, and the music helped to make the story come to life. There were many clips on YouTube to chose from but I just loved the music to this one so much. It suited the story and feel of the ballet so wonderfully. Perfectly positioned in a box on the second level, I couldn’t help but notice that the stage sets and colourful costumes mirrored and complemented the colours of the magnificent ceiling painted by Marc Chagall.
Attending the ballet at such a grand and opulent theatre was an experience I will never forget. Sitting on red velvet chairs and being surrounded by gold with an eight tonne chandelier hanging above you really sets the tone. I have never seen such a level of grandeur and opulence in one place before. I was literally blown away by its sheer beauty and jaw dropping magnificence. It truly is incredible; with so much beauty everywhere, trying to take everything in at once was quite overwhelming.
In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the Palais Garnier is just as lavish and opulent as the Château de Versailles, if not more so. As you now know, I am a huge fan of Versailles and Louis XIV so that is really saying something. The Grand Staircase has to be seen to be believed and it’s Grand Foyer bears a striking resemblance to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, making it almost impossible to pick a favourite. To be honest, if you simply can’t fit Versailles into your schedule and are looking to be wowed by grandeur, luxury and opulence then you can’t go wrong substituting it with the Palais Garnier instead.
On the 14th of January, 1858, an attempt was made to assassinate Napoleon III. Multiple bombs were thrown into the crowd by Italian anarchists as he arrived at l’Opéra le Peletier, the opéra at the time. It was a miracle that Napoleon III survived the attempt as eight people were killed and almost five hundred were injured in the explosion. The very next day saw Napoleon III give orders for a new opéra house to be built with a safer entrance for his arrival. The Palais Garnier was designed by Charles Garnier who was a relatively unknown architect at the time and took fifteen years to construct, opening in 1875.
Unfortunately, Napoleon III died two years prior to it’s completion and he never got the chance to see or enjoy the opéra house he commissioned.
Thanks to The Phantom of the Opéra, the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux, the Palais Garnier is probably the most famous opéra house in the world and is shrouded in mystery. It is here that the story is set, a classic tale that is so intertwined with historic detail that it is hard to seperate fact from fiction. There really was a chandelier related accident and the Phantom’s notorious Box Nº 5 does exist as does the Phantom’s lair, the underground tunnels and lake running underneath the building. Unfortunately for Phantom of the Opéra fans, the lake is not open for viewing to the general public but rest assured it is put to good use by the city’s pompiers (firemen) for diver training.
Beauty, history, culture and opulence, all rolled up in the mystery of literary gothic fiction and a touch of horror. What more could you ask for? I will definitely be attending a performance here every time I visit Paris, be it an opéra or a ballet but if that’s not your thing, I strongly recommend you take a tour of the Garnier instead. Trust me, you wont regret it and can thank me later. Perhaps, book an after hour tour to explore the Phantom’s realm without the crowds. Just don’t lag behind, you never know…..the Phantom might just be lurking in the shadows…..
Bisous de Paris 💋