Full steam ahead for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo
Back in April 1878, when the Société des Bains de Mer decided that what was missing in Monte-Carlo was a performance hall, it didn’t realise what building it had in store. Hotel and casino regulations allowed for a six-month construction period. It was architect Charles Garnier who decided to rise to the challenge. He knew all about operas as he had designed the Opéra de Paris, which had been inaugurated four years earlier in 1874. Garnier drew inspiration from his Paris creation for Monte-Carlo, which some view as a smaller-scale version of the Parisian structure.
Soon the time constraints were such that they had to work day and night. To provide lighting on the construction site, a steam engine was brought by train from Paris to Monaco. A crane was installed to move the engine from the train station to the construction site. Once the steam engine was in place, it provided, amid the noise and smoke, the electricity necessary to light up the construction site at night. Driven by the need to wrap up construction in record time, a thousand construction workers were brought in to keep the site up and running day and night.
Charles Garnier coordinated all the different jobs on the construction site – bricklayers, stonemasons, glaziers, flooring, mosaic, painters, sculptors, upholstering etc. – all brought together to make the future Opéra de Monte-Carlo an edifice worthy of the prestigious clientele to whom it was intended.
A nymph awakens…
On 25 January 1879, a miracle was accomplished: the opera was finished in record time. That same day, another miracle would take place: the inauguration.
Sarah Bernhardt portrayed a nymph trapped for eternity in the rocks that formed the building’s foundation. The long and noisy construction were not enough to move the earth’s depths but the music played by the conductor that evening finally awakened the nymph. That is how the Opéra de Monte-Carlo – a project founded by the Société des Bains de Mer that came to fruition thanks to Charles Garnier’s genius – opened to the sound of Sarah Bernardt’s voice in front of a crowd of 800 selected guests from European aristocracy.
The Opéra de Monte-Carlo became the backdrop for the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Opéra de Monte-Carlo troupe and the Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
In 2005, following two years of construction almost as impressive as the final result, the Opéra de Monte-Carlo has regained its initial splendour, leaving the visitors who discover the hall and its prestigious history in awe.