Paris Opéra strikes back in defence of removing partitions

Stéphane Lissner’s regime at the Opéra, under siege for removing walls between boxes at the Palais Garnier to create extra seats, has published documents purporting to show that the partitions were always intended to be removable.

In his book “The new Paris Opera”, published in 1878, Charles Garnier describes the “removable partitions that can be installed or withdrawn at will” in order to accommodate audiences as circumstances required.

From 1875 onwards temporary partition removal was regularly carried out for decades, for example in the case of official visits or hiring out of the auditorium.

Read the full Lissner defence (with new pictures) here.

garnier partition 3

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  • Boxes were hereditary estates that belonged to the noblest families. The partitions were effectively walls that separated one estate from another. There was a strict hierarchy of boxes depending on its proximity to the Royal box in the middle. God forbid you get to look into the loge of royalty.

    Oh, don’t think you could just show up with your 200 euros and ask for an empty seat. If the family didn’t invite you into their box, no arriviste is going get to sit next to the Duchesse de Guermantes. And when one noble family is disgraced, their box goes to the next family in line, and there is a big musical-chairs change-up. And don’t you think that as a nouveau riche bourgeois that you’re going to snag a box that opens up. You got to marry into nobility first even to get a back seat in the box.

    There you have it, 225 years after the French Revolution, we are finally coming around to tearing down the walls at the opera house.

    • But that is very regrettable. With the partition walls, differences of opinion among the audience are greatly reduced: within the box, you are among your own kind and happily oblivious of the misconceptions of the neighbouring box.

      Also, you don’t see the yawning of people of lower rank during Tannhäuser, and you are protected from overexposure when you are in artistic deep thoughts during Carmen. Thus the Duchesse de Guermantes had taught us and it would be great if we could maintain this noble tradition. It is about time that the egalitarian society is stopped in its tracks.

  • I’ve never understood why boxes are maintained in modern theatres. They run completely against what the theatre can offer above most things in life – a sense of togetherness and shared experience.

    • What about individualism? Every member of any classical music audience has a different experience, shouldn’t that be cultivated? One goes to a football match to dissolve the ego boundaries in a warm soup of group enthusiasm, but classical music speaks to us personally and individually for every single audience member. Mahler speaks to you personally as an individual, not as a mediocre little blob in a bland mass, otherwise he would not do so much his best to make such a noise. Look at the critics: they always come-up with mutually exclusive opinions. And they are always individual views about individual experiences. If everybody would share the same musical experience, in fact nobody would have his/her own experience, and there were no music criticism, and no discimination – while high art is supposed to be highly discriminative.

  • I haven’t been to the Palais Garnier, but have been to a few other horseshoe-shaped opera houses. In many of these theatres the views are TERRIBLE from many of the seats. If Lissner is taking down the partitions in order to put in seats from which you can actually see, then more power to him.

    • C’était l’object de l’exercice, as they say. You could see the show, if you wished, from the front. The back of the box offered privacy for nonmusical activities, includiing cards, food, and, rumor has it, s*x.

    • When young and in Paris, I went with my girlfriend to the Palais Garnier for the first time in my life to see a ballet. To our great surprise they offered very cheap tickets. It was a bit high, we were informed, but still really good places. After admiring the beautiful central hall with the grand staircase, we had to find another part of the building holding stairs, where we climbed and climbed. And after that, many other flight of stairs. Untill we got at another number of stairs, and so forth, so it seemed we would be seated on the roof. In the end, completely exhausted, we found our way through a maze of signs into a really nice pannelled box, like a shoe box with the opening at one of the small ends. Looking down through this square the stage and pit were so far away that we hardly saw anything at all and only some dancers’ legs lifted up in the air around a corner. Fortunately we had books with us.

  • I can’t imaging that the acoustics are very good beyond the very front of the box. Perhaps removing the partitions would help.

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