Friday, December 17, 2010

Bellas Artes vs. Palais Garnier

I've been meaning to write about this for a while but I needed to do something in order for it to be fair; assist to an Opera concert at Bellas Artes that is, and now that I have, I can go ahead and write this post with (if not plenty) enough knowledge.

By reading this post title you can make up that I will talk about El Palacio de Bellas Artes (aka The Palace of the Fine Arts) in Mexico City and Palais Garnier (aka L'Opera de Paris) in Paris, of course. Now, I truly love both buildings as they're both brilliant, architecturally speaking but I just can't help to compare them as they're both world famous Opera Houses and all that.

Palais Garnier

Palacio de Bellas Artes

So, I'll start with Bellas Artes; it is the most important Cultural Center in Mexico City as well as the rest of the country. They started building it in 1904, following orders of Mexico's President back then, Porfirio Díaz, and was finished in 1934. He wanted it to be opulent; one, because he wanted to show it off on time for the Centennial of Mexico's War of Independence in 1910 and, two, because he was a HUGE fan of Europe and Paris in particular; rumor has it, he even thought of himself as European--go figure! So he wanted Bellas Artes to be up to the level of the Opera de Paris. Now, it didn't take the actual 30 years to be built, I mean, it is an awesome building and Mexicans can be slow workers (to be honest!) but come on, the reason for that is that the initial design and construction was undertaken by Italian architect Adamo Boari, but complications arising from the soft subsoil and the political problem, both before and during the Mexican Revolution, made it difficult and then stopped construction completely by 1913. Construction began again in 1932 under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal; so it did take about 11 years total to be finished but I believe it was totally worth it, wasn't it?

Palacio de Bellas Artes at night

The exterior of the building is primarily Neoclassical and Art Nouveau and the interior is primarily Art Deco. The building is best known for its murals by Diego Rivera, Siqueiros and others, as well as the many exhibitions and theatrical performances its hosts, including the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico (de Amalia Hernández), which practically resides there (they have a LOT of shows throughout the year!). Since its initial construction, very little has been updated or modified. However, intensive renovation efforts were begun in 2009 for the 2010 celebrations of the Independence Bicentennial and Centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Much of the equipment and machinery is original from the early 20th century. Much of the technological equipment is being updated, especially in the theatre which needs computerized lights, sound systems and other improvements, in other words...Bellas Artes just went through a much needed and well deserved "pimping out" lol. Marble dust on the walls will improve the acoustics and upgrades to the theatre will allow for multimedia shows which were not available before. The main hall has had no renovation or upgrade work since it opened in 1934. The only setback of these renovations is that they reduced the number of people the hall can accommodate (about 300 seats!) but should make the area more comfortable. Last, but no least, I have to mention one of the most impacting aspects is the stage “curtain” which is a stained glass foldable panel created out of nearly a million pieces of iridescent pieces of colored glass by Tiffany’s in New York--fancy!!

Palacio de Bellas Artes' interior

Now, Palais Garnier; it is a 2,200-seat opera house -it holds more people than Bellas Artes- and it was the primary home of the Paris Opera from 1875 (when it was inaugurated) until 1989. It's a grand landmark designed by Charles Garnier in a Neo-Baroque style, and it is considered one of the architectural masterpieces of its time.

Palais Garnier everning shot

Palais Garnier was designed as part of the great Parisian reconstruction of the Second Empire initiated by Emperor Napopleon III , who chose the Baron Haussmann to supervise the reconstruction. In 1896, the falling of one of the counterweights for the grand chandelier (which weighs over six tons!) resulted in the death of one person. This incident, as well as the underground lake, cellars, along with the other elements of the Opera House even the building itself were the inspiration for the classic 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera.

Palais Garnier' interior

The Palais is opulently decorated with elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary. The ceiling area, which surrounds the chandelier, was given a new painting in 1964 by Marc Chagall. This painting was very controversial as many people felt Chagall's work clashed with the style of the rest of the theater; feeling with which I agree. I mean, the whole style is very classic and Neo-Baroque and all that and then Chagall comes with all this touch of 'modernity', which I don't think goes very well with the rest of the building, but still, it's a good work so I guess people has had to get used to it.

Palais Garnier's ceiling and chandelier

So, all in all you can tell they're both great constructions and important landmarks to their respective countries and cultures and, even though going to the Opera de Paris was something I had been wanting to do for a long time and when I recently did it was an incredible experience I'd happily repeat everytime I go to Paris, I think I have to say I do prefer Bellas Artes. Although that may be due to sentimental issues only, not just because I am Mexican and I like what's in my country better (because that's clearly not the case) but because -I believe I failed to mention before- I got the opportunity to sing in Bellas Artes like 15 years ago when I was part of the School Choir and being on that stage was simply an amazing experience not everyone gets to have, so I guess I'm quite lucky to be able to say I have performed in such an important stage in Mexico.

Palacio de Bellas Artes' everning shot

Oh, and about the actual shows, there the story is different. At Palais Garnier I actually saw the Ballet de L'Opera presenting "Paquita Lacotte" and, at Bellas Artes I saw "Fidelio" and I do have to admit I liked the first one much, much better; I don't know if it has to do with the fact that I was in Paris having an awesome time and in "Fidelio" it was in German (boring!) and all the set and costumes were gray (boring!), or what but yeah, I liked "Paquita Lacotte" better. I just wished I had Opera Glasses to make the whole experience more...frenchie? fancy? realistic? fun? haha.

Paquita Lacotte

Opera Glasses


  1. " is an awesome building and Mexicans can be slow workers (to be honest!) ..." WHAT'S YOUR DAMN PROBLEM???!!! I'm going to ask you politely, not pluralize, please!

  2. I am going to, politely, ask you to be a grown up and admit what I said is true. I am Mexican, lived in Mexico for almost 30 years, so I know perfectly well what I'm talking about. I love Mexico, but I also face the reality of my country. I hope one day you do, too.