It took until 1791 for the names of the singers and dancers to appear on the bill for the first time.
Under the Ancien Régime, on certain special occasions free performances were offered at the Opera. These were announced by the following phrase at the top of the billboard: “FOR THE PEOPLE, BY ORDER”.
If today we are familiar with the Foyer de la Danse at the Palais Garnier thanks to the Paris Opera Ballet’s gala Défilé, it is in fact the foyer at the opera house in the rue Le Peletier (1821-1873) which is depicted in Degas' famous paintings.
Originally from Italy, Jean-Baptiste Lully began working in France as a cook in the household of the Duke of Guise and then in the home of the latter’s niece Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
In those times, he was famous for his macaroni which he served with a fried egg: œufs Lully.
History has it that in 1792, the Opera’s directors Cellerier and Francoeur—neither of whom were blessed with a revolutionary spirit—refused to stage Le Siège de Thionville.
Both were arrested and Francoeur spent a year in jail. Cellerier, for his part, managed to escape the police.
At the Opera as in the theatre, the director struck the floor of the stage three times with a stick to alert the audience to the fact that the curtain was about to rise.
That director was also known as a brigadier because he led a team of stage operatives who were often grouped in “brigades”.
The sabres in the Opera's props storeroom where the sets and props were stored were seized and put to use during the storming of the Bastille.
A letter from Dauvergne, the Opera’s director in 1789, attests to this: “They only took the sabres since there were no other weapons they could make use of—all the axes and clubs being made of cardboard.”
In the early days of the Académie Royale de musique, operas were preceded by allegorical prologues—lyrical pieces which often bore no relation to the rest of the performance and which served primarily to glorify the king and his achievements.
This obligation ended with Zoroastre, an opera composed by Jean-Philippe Rameau in 1749. As a result, for the first time the prelude was replaced by an overture that had some semblance of a connection with the work being performed.
If, for more than a century, the identity of the woman who posed for Gustave Courbet’s notorious painting The Origin of the World remained a mystery, it was recently discovered that she was in fact a dancer, and more specifically, a dancer from the Paris Opera.
It is thanks to the research of Claude Schopp that we can now put a name to one of the most famous nudes in the history of painting: Mademoiselle Constance Quéniaux. She entered the Opera as a dancer at the age of fourteen and apparently became the mistress of a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat by the name of Khalil-Bey, who also happened to be the painting’s first owner.
For a long time, it was customary to change sets in full view of the audience while the orchestra continued to play. Gluck was the first to suggest that the curtain be lowered between each act to allow the sets for the next scene to be put in place.
Jean-Baptiste Lully died in 1687. The cause? Rehearsing his famous Te Deum at the Église des Feuillants in the Rue Saint-Honoré. In order to keep the singers in rhythm, he would mark tempo with a cane—at the time, conducting was not yet a profession.
As he was doing so, he inadvertently struck his foot. The aforementioned foot quickly became inflamed and an operation proved necessary. However a few days later gangrene set in and he succumbed at the age of 54.
Under the Ancien Régime, ticket prices doubled on the first night of a new production and quadrupled when the king attended the performance.
On April 27, 1673, King Louis XIV attended a performance of Cadmus et Hermione, an opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The Gazette de France, an extremely popular periodical at the time, reports:
“His Majesty, accompanied by the Queen and Mademoiselle d’Orléans went to the faubourg Saint-Germain to be entertained by an opera at the Académie Royale de Musique arranged by Monsieur Baptiste Lully, who is so acclaimed in that art; and the Royal party left immensely satisfied by the superb performance, in which the tragedy of Cadmus and Hermione, a magnificent work by Monsieur Quinault, was depicted with the aid of astounding sets and contraptions invented and supervised by Monsieur Vigarani, a gentleman from Modena.”
Tradition has it that Beauchamp, the choreographer of the Académie Royale de Musique during the reign of Louis XIV composed the figures of his ballets by drawing inspiration from the pigeons he saw in a granary.
He himself would go and strew the grain to feed them. The pigeons would scramble for the seeds and the various groups they formed would give him ideas for his dances.
Under the Ancien Régime, horse-drawn carriages enjoyed priority rights when parking in front of the Opera.
This privilege meant that on their arrival, the carriages would have to park according to a particular order that respected protocol: Princes, ministers and ambassadors came first, the conveyances of the bourgeoisie came second, and the hired hackney carriages came last.
In accordance with the same protocols, no carriage could leave prior to the departure of the ones belonging to the Princes. This privilege, which caused considerable traffic congestion, was abrogated by a decree issued by King Louis XVI in 1780.
On January 5, 1875, the Palais Garnier was inaugurated with great pomp in the presence of French President MacMahon, the Lord Mayor of London, the Burgomaster of Amsterdam, the Spanish Royal family and a large number of guests and critics from all over Europe.
But who was overlooked? Charles Garnier who, after having overseen the theatre’s construction for thirteen years, was obliged to pay 120 francs for his box in the second circle.
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