By making systematic use of the mostly unpublished Opera Archive, Mead fills in the missing links to previous investigations and unlocks the significance of this seminal masterpiece.
Charles Garnier's Paris Opera (1861-1875) is one of the largest, most flamboyant, and most expensive monuments commissioned by the Second Empire of Napoleon III. For years scholars have recognized that the Opera is key to any understanding of nineteenth-century French architecture, yet questions of style that have surrounded the Opera since its inception have remained unresolved. By making systematic use of the mostly unpublished Opera Archive, Mead fills in the missing links to previous investigations and unlocks the significance of this seminal masterpiece.
Mead approaches the Opera through Garnier's life. In a careful analysis of the Second Empire's intellectual climate, he provides a new interpretation of the genesis of the Opera's style. Mead reconstructs in detail the social, political, intellectual, professional, and industrial circumstances of Garnier's career as they were expressed through the Opera's design and construction. He shows that with the Paris Opera, Charles Garnier revived French classicism by insisting on its necessary evolution to a modern expression of its time, and on its empathetic origins in the rich complexities of human experience.