Gluck at the Opéra Garnier

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.

Opéra Garnier

The grand staircase

Balconies overlooking the grand staircase

The Grand Foyer being set up for a sponsoring function

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.

In the Opéra 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.

Program booklet

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.)

Ceiling paintings by Marc Chagall

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

My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2020.

See also: Händel’s Julius Caesar at the Opéra Garnier
and Don Pasquale at the Opera Garnier

and Opera Library and Museum in Paris.

10 thoughts on “Gluck at the Opéra Garnier”

  1. Thank you for this! My wife and I saw Susan Graham as Iphigénie during the summer of 2006 at the Opéra Garnier, and I’m afraid that what sticks in our minds the most is how hot it was (no air conditioning, apparently) and that there were no supertitles. Typical spoiled Americans, I guess. I’d forgotten that the staging was in a nursing home, but your description brought it all back, as did your photo of the wonderful Chagall ceiling.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment. I do remember that there was quite a heat wave (I learned the French word “canicule” that summer) but I wasn’t surprised by the lack of air conditioning. Surtitles were also not common in those days, though they have become pretty much standard in European opera houses in the past few years.

    1. Booing has a long tradition in European opera houses, especially La Scala in Milan. There, I was surprised that a loud faction upstairs booed the conductor and most of the singers (who had done fine, in my opinion) and even booed the substitute tenor who had jumped in and saved the show after the intermission.
      In Frankfurt, it is unusual for the stage director not to be booed at the end of a premiere, presumably by people who want every opera to be staged the way they first saw it forty or fifty years ago. But we “bravo” folks are usually in the majority.

  2. How come ever thing is so grand in Paris? The architecture, museums, interior, paintings, furniture etc. etc. the city is awe-impressive and mesmerizing. Thanks Don for a virtual tour, another good opera story.

    1. Thanks, Vijay. Actually not everything is so grand in Paris. There are also some run-down neighborhoods with boarded-up store fronts. But even these run-down parts of the city tend to have cafés, small theaters and inventive street-art.

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