Little Bits of History

From Disaster to Inspiration

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2014
Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

May 20, 1896: The chandelier falls. The Palais Garnier is an opera house located in Paris, France. It was built between 1861 and 1875 for the Paris Opera, the primary opera company of France. It was built on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris and was originally called Salle des Capucines because of location. It soon became known as Palais Garnier in recognition of the architect, Charles Garnier. His opulent building was highly appreciated by those attending performances. Built during the Second Empire, it was the most expensive opera house to build along with being called “unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.”

On this date, one of the counterweights for the chandelier came free and broke through the ceiling into the auditorium below. It killed one member of the audience. It also served as an inspiration for Gaston Leroux in his classic 1910 gothic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. It was used by Andrew Lloyd Webber in his musical of the same name as well. The entire story was placed inside the opera house and it is one of the reasons it remains one of the most widely recognized opera houses in the world.

On December 30, 1860, Napoleon III announced a design competition for the building of an opera house for the Paris Opera, since their building had been destroyed by fire decades before. Their temporary home was no longer good enough. Applicants were given a month to submit entries and there were two phases for the competition and 171 entrants managed to complete the first phase. There were five finalists chosen and only four of these actually finished the final submission which was much more rigorous. The directions were received on April 28 and on May 29, 1861, Garnier’s was chosen for its “rare and superior qualities in the beautiful distribution of the plans, the monumental and characteristic aspect of the facades and sections”.

The site was excavated from August 27 to December 31, 1861 but even with pumps running continuously after October, the ground would not dry. Garnier solved the problem by building a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture (and make a great hiding place for a Phantom later). The cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1862. The style is unlike other building and when Empress Eugenie asked the not-yet-famous Garnier what style it was supposed to be, since it was unlike those in use at the time, the clever man replied, “Why Ma’am, it’s Napoleon Trois.” The building’s opulence is truly one of a kind.

I call architecture frozen music. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. – Frank Lloyd Wright

We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it. – John Ruskin

Architecture is the art of how to waste space. – Philip Johnson

Also on this day: Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.
Sonnets – In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.

Majestic Theatre

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 28, 2014
Majestic Theatre

Majestic Theatre

March 28, 1927: The Majestic Theatre opens in New York City. The theater is located at 245 West 44th Street in Manhattan and is one of the largest Broadway theaters with 1,645 seats available. It is the traditional venue for major musical productions including Carousel, South Pacific, The Music Man, Camelot, A Little Night Music, and The Wiz. Majestic Theatre was the second home of 42nd Street and the third home for 1776. It has been the home of The Phantom of the Opera since it opened on January 26, 1988 with a record breaking performance run of over 10,000 performances. This is the longest running production in Broadway history. The theater opened with Rufus LeMaire’s Affairs.

The theater was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp and built by the Chanin Brothers. Krapp was born in 1887 in New York City. He apprenticed with Herts & Tallent where he was involved in some big name projects. He left the firm in 1915 and began working directly for the Shubert brothers. He would eventually become their primary architect. He also worked for the Chanin brothers, notably when building this theater. He was known for his ability to use the entirety of the space available. In the Majestic, he used stadium seating for the orchestra level and created better sightlines as well as making it possible to have larger lounge and lobby areas.

The Great Depression hit and building boom ceased. The Chanin brothers sold their theater to the Shubert brothers, today called the Shubert Organization. The Shuberts were responsible for the establishment of the Broadway district as the center for live theater in the US. The family emigrated from the Russian Empire to New York. The parents and seven children first settled in Syracuse. The sons broke the theater management monopoly and began their own theater production company. They acquired and then built many new theaters. By 1924 they had 86 theaters in the US alone and by the end of the decade they owned, operated, managed or booked over 1,000 theaters nationwide.

In 1973, the company reorganized and as of 2008 they owned or operated 17 Broadway theaters as well as others off Broadway and outside New York City. Many of the theaters formerly owned or operated by the Shuberts are still known by their old family name, even though they have been sold off. The Majestic is still under their care and they are still running The Phantom. The musical has topped its own previous record. The week ending January 2, 2011 had gross receipts of $1,390,530.53. However, the week ending December 29, 2013 topped it. The nine performances that week had gross receipts of $1,843,296.

Promises are like crying babies in a theater, they should be carried out at once. – Norman Vincent Peale

There were centuries when civilization had no theater. – Orson Welles

Movies are all about plot. Theater, even if it’s story heavy, it’s about ideas. – Harvey Fierstein

If you really want to help the American theater, don’t be an actress, dahling. Be an audience. – Tallulah Bankhead

Also on this day: Ragnar, the Viking – In 845, Ragnar sacked Paris.
Tornado Outbreak – In 1920, a series of devastating tornadoes swept the US.
Three Mile Island – In 1979, a partial nuclear meltdown began in Pennsylvania.
He Changed the Way We Live – In 1897, Victor Mills was born.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2013
Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber

January 26, 1988: The Majestic Theatre on Broadway in New York City opens a new musical. The show first opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on October 9, 1986. The musical is based on a book by the French author Gaston Leroux who gave us Le Fantôme de l’Opéra in 1911. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music while Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe contributed the lyrics. The play became the longest running Broadway musical on January 26, 2006 with its 7,486th performance. It is the second longest West End musical behind Les Miserables and passed the 9,000-performance mark on May 31, 2008.

The Phantom of the Opera has won both the Oliver Award and a Tony Award. The orchestral needs for the musical are greater than for most modern productions. The 27-piece orchestra can be replaced with pre-recorded music when the pit is too small to hold the musicians. There are also off-stage voiceovers that are pre-recorded as are Christine’s high notes at the end of the title song. The cast of 12 players requires a staff of 13. Due to the demands on the voice of the soprano in the role of Christine Daaé, two actresses are needed with the secondary actress taking the stage twice a week.

The tale takes place in Paris in 1881. The owner of the theatre sells it and while the troupe is performing for the new owners, they hear of the Opera Ghost. When their star soprano quits in a huff, Christine is put into the starring role. While she has a beautiful voice, she is untrained. She is mysteriously coached and performs brilliantly on opening night. In the audience is Raoul, Vicomte de Chagne, the new patron of the Opera House and the old sweetheart of Christine.

Christine is torn between the Phantom of the Opera and Raoul. She becomes engaged to the young man angering her adoring mentor. The two men’s animosity escalates. It is a story of unconditional love or perhaps a tale of desperate need. Andrew Lloyd Webber has given the world several spectacular musicals: Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and Evita. He is set to premiere his sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies in 2010 with Jack O’Brien directing.

“Let me be your shelter, let me be your light.
You’re safe: No-one will find you, your fears are far behind you . . .” – Raoul

“Father once spoke of an angel . . . I used to dream he’d appear . . .
Now as I sing, I can sense him . . . And I know he’s here.” – Christine

“Flattering child, you shall know me, see why in shadow I hide!
Look at your face in the mirror – I am there inside!” – Phantom

“Christine: In sleep he sang to me / In dreams he came
That voice which calls to me / And speaks my name
And do I dream again? / For now I find
The phantom of the opera is there, / Inside my mind.
Phantom: Sing once again with me / Our strange duet
My power over you / Grows stronger yet
And though you turn from me / to glance behind
The phantom of the opera is there / Inside your mind” – all from The Phantom of the Opera

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Love Never Dies opened at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End (London) on March 9, 2010. The play was substantially written in November 2010 but still got poor reviews in England. After more substantial rewrites, the play opened in Australia to a better reception. It was to have opened on Broadway at the same time as the West End opening, but it was delayed indefinitely. Love Never Dies takes place ten years after the close of The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom moved to the US and is in charge of Phantasma, a Coney Island amusement park. He still pines for Christine and invites her to come to the US to perform. She does not realize who issued the invitation and so she, her husband Raoul, and their son, Gustave accept the invitation.

Also on this day: The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey? – In 178,: Benjamin Franklin debates using the eagle as engraved on the national seal.
Brilliant – In 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was found.