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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Documentary: 19th Century Louis-Emile Durandelle and the Paris Opera (1860-1874)

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19th Century Louis-Emile Durandelle and the Paris Opera

The construction of the Paris Opera House in the nineteenth century was a statement in quarried stone of civic and national pride. On 29 December 1860 a resolution was passed that commenced a competition for suitable designs and plans. The unanimously chosen winner was Charles Garnier and by July 1861 the site had been selected and the following month the excavation of the foundations commenced. This was far from an ideal time for new public works with both the Franco-Prussian War and the following dark times of the Paris Commune coinciding with the construction. Despite this Garnier completed the project by December 1874 and in January 1875 it opened:
The opening of the New Opera House at Paris took place on Tuesday last. The Government had engaged the entire house for the opening night, which was, therefore, a state festivity, to which the diplomatic corps, the deputies, &c, were invited. The regular performances were to commence last evening with Hamlet.
(The Academy, Issue 7, Jan 9, 1875, p.51)
This vast undertaking was described in a contemporary account as follows:
The historian of the new temple of song rounds off his record with an array of not uninteresting figures, and with a few of these I too shall close. The gas-pipes, if connected, would form a pipe twenty-five kilometres in length; fourteen furnaces and four hundred and fifty grates heat the house; a battery of seventy cups generates electricity for the scenic effects; nine reservoirs and two tanks hold a hundred thousand litres of water, and distribute their contents through six thousand nine hundred and eighteen metres of piping, and there are twenty-five hundred and thirty-one doors, and seven thousand five hundred and ninety-three keys, which latter M. Gamier delivered formally, but figuratively, I imagine, to M. Halanzier when the manager took possession of the premises. (Frederick A. Schwab, "A Temple of Song", Scribners Monthly, May, 1875, Volume X, No.1, p.20)
During the process Louis-Emile Durandelle photographed both the construction and the ornamental sculptures that decorated the immense building. His photographs were published in Le Nouvel Opera de Paris par Charles Garnier, (Paris: Ducher et Cie, 1875-81) and remain as one of the key documentations of a nineteenth century architectural project. Durandelle recorded many other key projects in Paris including the construction of Sacre Coeur, the Hotel de Ville, and the Eiffel Tower. 



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