The Secrets of Opéra Garnier

Take a look behind the curtain into one of Le Collectionist's unforgettable experiences and join us on a private tour of Opéra Garnier.
The Secrets of Opéra Garnier
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More than 150 years after its construction, the Opéra National de Paris continues to fascinate its visitors. To discover one of the flagship experiences offered by Le Collectionist, a private tour of the backstage and costume workshops of the Opéra Garnier, we went to the heart of the 9th arrondissement. During our visit, we had the chance to meet Xavier Ronze, Head of the Sewing Workshops.

Did you know that the construction of the Paris Opera was started following an assassination attempt of Emperor Napoleon III on the way to the former Peletier opera house? In 1861, this monumental project was entrusted to Charles Garnier. Far from the dark alleys on the banks of the Seine, the future National Opera had to be a reflection of the reconstruction of Paris. Just as the Haussmannian boulevards and thousands of street lamps coined Paris as the City of Light, Garnier designed the palatial opera house using classical architecture that has never gone out of style.


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After the Franco-German war, the fall of the Empire, the Paris Commune and the advent of the Third Republic, the Opéra National de Paris finally opened its doors on January 5, 1875. All of Parisian high society was present, and even President Mac-Mahon attended. However, Charles Garnier was not among the guests of honour, because he became too associated with the excesses of the Empire. Despite this sidelining, he left his mark within the walls of the Opera. Passing through the ground floor of the Palais Garnier, the former entrance for horse-drawn carriages, insiders can find the name of the architect inscribed on the gorgeous stone walls.


Like the works of the great masters that are seen on stage, Palais Garnier has been designed with expert precision. Each sculpted step takes us away from darkness to bring us closer to art and light. Past the main staircase, the mythical dome of the Opera opens up to the sky, while two Greek statues guard the entrance to the amphitheatre. If the main entrance is reminiscent of that of an ancient temple, it is because Classic mythology was a source of inspiration for the architect.

Behind the high doors of the reception room, let yourself be dazzled by a ballet of dancing light and mirrors. Don't forget to look up at the frescoes on the ceiling to see Apollo, the god of love and music, guiding the sun on its daily journey. The fireplace is merely decorative, our guide tells us with a smile. Here, you have to imagine the smoke of cigars and the glow of the hundreds of candles that had to be replaced between each act.

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Practicality and aesthetics have always coexisted within the walls of Palais Garnier, both in the staterooms and behind the scenes. This subtle balance is perfected in the Ateliers de couture de l’Opéra. We sneak from golden landings through cosy corridors until we reach the door to the holy grail of the artistic world. Everyone holds their breath as they enter, careful not to disturb the seamstresses, always at work to create the costumes that the stars will wear. They measure, cut and pin the most beautiful fabrics until they are made into the gorgeous costumes you see on stage. It is their expert work that has created the reputation of excellence held by the Paris Opera. Inside the workshops, absolutely everything is tailor-made for ballerinas and dancers. Each mannequin is personalised according to the measurements of these high-level athletes. The ultimate challenge? Designing costumes as magical as they are delicate for those whose physical performance defies the laws of gravity.


The creations are often put to the test, reveals Xavier Ronze, Workshop Manager. This ex-ESMOD joined the Opera family as an intern more than thirty years ago. With an energetic step, he leads us between the different departments (light fabrics workshop, knitwear, decoration, tailoring and design) to the heart of it all, “Central costumes”. In this panelled room, the walls are covered with heavy, embroidered coats and 18th-century dresses, and romantic tutus hang from the ceiling. Sheltered in this tulle cocoon, the precious fabrics tell the stories of the classic performances that have graced the building: Le Rouge et le Noir, Giselle, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some of these suits are very old, explains Xavier Ronze, while others are contemporary designs.


The Workshop Manager is at home here and his passion is contagious, as he runs between the racks. For a moment, he stops to show us the finishing touches of a military uniform, which will be worn on stage during performances of Mayerling, the famous ballet by British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan. According to him, the simplest things are often the most effective, but dance is an extremely lively and dynamic art that is constantly changing. The main challenge is to find the right balance between maintaining an old repertoire of skills and crafting new and surprising creations. Driven by the exuberance of the dancers and artists who pass through the Opéra Garnier, Xavier Ronze is constantly evolving.


For him, the prestige of the Opéra National de Paris is about the dialogue between a place and a performance, as well as the artists and exceptional craftsmen. This dialogue is never more important than when on stage, where the smallest detail may not be visible, but where the extraordinary quality of the production must be seen by all the spectators. Seen, but also felt, because dance is above all a physical art. Before leaving us, Xavier Ronze takes us to the design workshop, a marvellous place, in which the stunning costumes worn during performances are made. As we admire the delicacy of the tiaras, handcrafted with piano strings, it is already time to leave. This evening, the Head of the Couture Workshops will be performing at the Opéra Garnier. As he closes the doors of this enchanted place, Xavier Ronze tells us that he is never happier than sitting in the theatre, seeing the costumes come to life as the hours of work finally pay off.

An extraordinary experience like this is just one of the many things Le Collectionist has to offer during your luxury France holiday. Explore our collection of luxury villa rentals in Paris, or in one of our other luxury holiday destinations and choose the perfect home for your next luxury holiday.

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