In terms of the number of seats that they can actually put on sale for any given evening, around 1,750, this is only the third largest opera house in Paris (assuming you still count the Châtelet as an opera house). But when you consider the amount of high-quality space that is available in the Opéra Garnier for these 1,750 people to walk around in, for instance the entrance hall, the Grand Staircase, the balconies overlooking the Grand Staircase, the Grand Foyer, the avant-foyer, the Rotonde des abonnés and the loggia, then their claim that this is the world’s largest theater begins to seem plausible.
All you loyal readers of my Nürnberg post Feel Gluck in Nürnberg might recall that there I talked about the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) and his opera Iphigenie in Aulis, composed in 1774.
Well, at the Opéra Garnier in Paris in 2006 I saw the sequel, Iphigenie en Tauride, with the American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in the title role. She has been one of my all-time favorite singers ever since I saw her as Octavian in Birmingham, England, in the 1990s. As Iphigenie she was fantastic as usual, and was enthusiastically cheered by the audience in the Opera Garnier.
The orchestra and the other singers were first-rate, as well, and the attractive stage set included reflecting walls that could be raised or lowered at appropriate times. Up where I was sitting we saw the orchestra and conductor reflected on those walls, and the folks downstairs saw the reflection of the golden balconies of the large hall, which I thought was a beautiful way of incorporating the magnificent architecture of the building into the staging of the opera itself.
The one thing that detracted somewhat from the performance was the fact that the stage director had decided it should take place in an old-people’s home, so there were about twenty extra players as old women limping around the stage at various times. Normally I am quite good at figuring out what the stage directors are trying to say (I know some of these folks and am on their wavelength, so to speak), but this time I was quite baffled. And I wasn’t the only one, because when these extra players came on stage to take their bows at the end, the whole house erupted in loud boos. (Which was a bit unfair to these poor ladies who were only doing what the stage director told them to do. As this performance was not the premiere, the stage director was no longer there to take the blame.)
The paintings on the ceiling were commissioned by the writer Andre Malraux, who at the time was Minister of Culture in the French government, and were painted by Marc Chagall between 1960 and 1964.
Location and aerial view of the Opéra Garnier on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2020.