Opéra magnifique


The Palais Garnier, still called by many l'Opéra even though opera is now rarely performed there, ranks among the world's finest theaters as well as among Paris's most famous architectural symbols. It was designed by architect Charles Garnier as part of the great reconstruction of Paris during Napolean III's Second Empire, in an elaborate beaux-arts style that includes dozens of classical statues and friezes along with an opulent grand staircase and foyer. For all that, it might be best-known for its massive 7-ton chandelier, a part of which fell and killed an audience member in 1896 -- an event memorialized in the novel "The Phantom of the Opera" -- and for its still-controversial main ceiling painted by Marc Chagall (above). In 1964, under Culture Minister André Malraux, the original ceiling featuring swirling classical figures was replaced with the Chagall ceiling depicting scenes from 14 different operas. Guided and unguided tours of this truly impressive structure are available every day. It's still home to the highly regarded Paris ballet and the occasional opera although most opera is now performed at the bigger (and architecturally undistinguished, to put it politely) Opéra Bastille.