Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Paris Opera House: From Napoleon III to Chagall

As I walked in the massive Opera House building in Paris, the beautiful interior and Baroque style decor caught my eye. The interior of the Opera House is made up of around 30 different types of marble, and honors many of the most famous composers with sculptures and their names along the exterior of the buildings architecture. As I walked up the grand staircase the marble shine from the ground drew my eyes to follow the sides of the stairs to the ceiling masterpiece. I felt tiny next to the decorative lamps and statues, I had a feeling of royalty and elegance.

wikicommons: "Opera Garnier Grand Escalier" by Benh Lieu Song

The Opera de Paris represents the amazing work of Charles Garnier built from 1861 to 1875, this untested architect won a competition out of 171 applicants to plan and construct a new Opera House commissioned by Napoleon III. However, Napoleon was removed from power in 1870 and construction on the Opera Building was stopped. The planning of the Opera was composed of the style Napoleon III wanted, monogrammed with his initials, and featuring paintings that depicted his accomplishments as Emperor. Paris still needed an Opera House, and so the construction was restarted under the government of the Third Republic. It is interesting to know that the government kept the original planning that Napoleon wanted. It is a bit ironic because Napoleon was no longer in power, however, I believe that it was necessary to keep the original planning in remembrance to Napoleons accomplishments but, also to remember the rebellious act of the citizens over the Emperor and thus the Third Republic was formed.

The Opera House Grand Foyer, Photo by Jessica Hardy

In addition to the beautiful architectural style inside the Opera building, the ceiling area in the auditorium was originally painted by Jules E. Lenepveu in the late 19th century, but repainted by Marc Chagall in 1964. Chagall painted over the original painting because France's minister of Culture wanted something unique that would make the Opera house standout. The juxtaposition of this painting is usually criticized because it is different from the original structure of Garniers architectural style. However, I believe that it sets up a message that I have gotten throughout my stay in Paris: that not only Parisians but all French citizens appreciate and try to keep as much history alive. The style of the Opera House represents history, and the painting by Marc Chagall represents change. Change is an essential characteristic that is necessary to make an individual or place different from others. It is difficult to value change in its moment but it then becomes a part of a movement in life. Throughout my journey in the neighborhoods of Paris, I've learned about the evolution of the architecture in buildings and how they represent a change in the lives of Parisians.

Marc Chagall ceiling, Photo by Jessica Hardy

The size of the Opera house is huge and it made me feel like an ant next to an apple. I was awakened by the fact that there was so much to see, I didn't know where to start looking. The interior caught my attention because it has a variety of art styles in one building. As we walked through the Opera House, there were so many different forms of interior design that made me feel overwhelmed with beauty. I never thought that I would be enamored by a building like the Opera de Paris Garnier as I was. The fine points stacked up detail after detail, layer after layer of perfection.

Rebeca Vargas


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