The Palais Garnier is a monument to Second Empire high society. The comfortably upholstered auditorium seats more than 2,000 people - and the exterior is just as opulent, with sculptures of music and dance on the façade, Apollo topping the copper dome, and nymphs bearing torches. Carpeaux's sculpture La Danse shocked Parisians with its frank sensuality: in 1869, someone threw a bottle of ink over its marble thighs. The original is now safe in the Musée d'Orsay, where there's also a massive scale model of the building.
The Grand Foyer, with its mirrors and parquet, coloured marble, moulded stucco, sculptures and paintings by Baudry, have all been magnificently restored. You can also visit the Grand Escalier, the auditorium with a false ceiling painted by Chagall in 1964, red satin and velvet boxes, and the library and museum - it was once the emperor's private salons, where he could arrive directly by carriage on the ramp at the rear of the building.
The Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris manages to tread successfully between classics and new productions, between the Opéra Bastille and the lavish Palais Garnier. To illustrate this, highlights in 2011 include Prokofiev's classic Romeo and Juliet, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's 2001 Rain.