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RESTAURANT PROFILE/HISTORIC SITE

EXPERIENCING THE PARIS OPERA HOUSE & L'ENTRACTE OPERA CAFE

by Bonnie Carroll

Photo: LBN

If you've ever read the book 'The Phantom of the Opera' or seen the musical and movies based on it you've been introduced to the grandeur that is the Paris Opera House, which was completed in 1875, and stands today as one of Paris's finest examples of 19th-century architecture.

France has had a long, tumultuous history including revolutions, beheadings, and wars throughout the years. Everyone in charge has wanted to leave their mark on the country. In 1858, outside the entrance to the opera, Napoleon III survived an assassination attempt by Italian nationalists. This inspired him to build an opera house with a more secure entrance, to be called the Académie Impériale de Musique et de Danse, or the Imperial Academy of Music and Dance.

1860 marked the organization of an international competition for the building of the new Académie Impériale de Musique et de Danse. 171 architects participated including the thirty-five-year-old and as yet unknown Charles Garnier. His proposed design attempted to remedy what he considered to be the crucial problem for artists of the period: the impossibility of accommodating large audiences. He was proclaimed the winner on May 30th 1861.

It took several years for the new opera house to be built. Construction began in 1862. The 12,000 square meters that Napoleon III ordered to be cleared turned out to be swampy and on top of a subterranean lake. It took eight months for the foundation to finally be poured, as it kept flooding and filling with water.

Photo: Bonnie Carroll LBN

Flooding wasn't the only problem plaguing the construction of the new opera house. The 1869 election showed Napoleon III that the middle and working classes weren't happy with the way things were being run in their country. The economy was terrible, and soon France was once again at war, this time with the Prussians. Napoleon III was captured and deposed and later died in 1873. Construction stalled, but Garnier still tried to work on it despite the financial problems and resistance from the public who wanted it torn down. The Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House, finally opened on January 5, 1875. Paris finally had a new home for its opera and ballet performances.

Photo: Bonnie Carroll LBN

The foyer of the opera is where people can mingle before the shows start. The ceilings are painted and are lit by chandeliers. There is also a large chandelier in the theater. Weighing seven tons, Garnier's bronze and crystal creation rises above the audience.

Photo: Bonnie Carroll LBN

The exterior is equally decorative, with many sculptures and curved designs. The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, which emphasizes symmetry and ornamentation. The exterior showcases many sculptures, including marble busts of composers and depictions of Harmony and Poetry. The building includes two side pavilions, one created as an entrance for the emperor, the other for the audience. Since Napoleon III passed away before it was finished, they now house the Paris Opera library and museum.

Photo: Bonnie Carroll LBN

As in any old building, things fall apart. The building received an electrical update first in 1969. Restoration work began in 1994, and finished in 2007. The exterior, dirtied by years of pollution, was cleaned. The electricity was updated once again, and the foundation was strengthened.

One unexpected surprise is the main hall, with a ceiling painted by the modern artist Marc Chagall in 1964 and an interesting contrast to the 19th century excesses.

Photo: Bonnie Carroll LBN

Although the Bastille is now the official home to opera in Paris, performances are often still held here with starting prices for tickets of around 150 euros. I was delighted to enjoy a Japanese inspired dance performance there last year that was outstanding.

L'Entracte Opera Cafe & Brasserie

Photo: L'Entracte

There must be dining before and after performances at the Opera House, and many renowned dining establishments are located nearby on Rue Aubeer. I'm deighted to share my experience at the iconic L'Entracte Opera Cafe & Brasserie located directly across the street from the beautiful Opera building, where patrons may sit by the street under an awning to savor delicious French specialties and merge with the excitement of Paris over a cafe with pastries or a glass of wine with some amazing cheese. People watching with a view of one of France's most impressive architectual creations is so much fun and totally energizing.

Photo: L'Entracte

The interior of the restaurant is filled with warm woods and inviting decor. Several dining rooms offer formal to more relaxed dining options and the L'Entracte Opera menu is filled with everyone's French favorites including cuisses de grenouilles au beurre persille (frog legs, butter with chopped parsley), esgargot de Bourgogne (6 Burgundy snails), Soupe a l'oignon gratinee (French OnionSoup) potatoes dauphinnise, and steak tartare.

Photo: L'Entracte

Naturally, the dessert menu is filled with divine endings and the wine list offers a unique collection of outstanding French and European wines to pair with your lunch, dinner or late night bites. I loved the ambiance in this historic haunt and wished the walls would talk to me because the clientele were mostly very well dressed locals, with just a few tourists in search of a real French dining adventure.

Photo: L'Entracte

L'Entracte Opera Cafe & Brasserie is located at 1 Rue Aubeer. To make reservations or inquiries call +33 47 422 625.


2008
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2007
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© 2008 Bonnie Carroll, All Rights Reserved