Behind the scenes at Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier
Country: France
City: Paris
Institution Type: Historic/Heritage
Year Founded: 1875

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Palais Garnier is one of the most recognizable opera houses in the world. Yet, for most of its existence, only those with opera tickets could visit the grand establishment. In the 1970s, the Palais Garnier opened to the non-opera attending public, offering guided tours for groups and individuals. By 2013, they decided it was time to upgrade to a state-of-the-art multimedia guide.

The Palais Garnier team was eager to tell the stories behind the site’s extraordinary architecture and history. However, unlike a museum or historical home, much of its cultural fascination is based on a live and thus ephemeral event—the opera. To help address this challenge, Palais Garnier called upon content partner Antenna International to create an iPod multimedia tour along with a premium iPad tour offering extra content and enhanced functionality.

The Antenna team viewed the challenge not as a hindrance but rather as an opportunity: instead of being limited by existing scripts or assets, we were able to begin with a blank slate and approach the storytelling from a variety of angles. In collaboration with the Palais Garnier team, Antenna interviewed curators and conducted numerous site visits, and soon an intriguing narrative came to light—one which drew on all aspects of the building, its history, and the events that shaped its role in French society. The exercise demonstrated that sites don’t need to have pre-existing content to develop a captivating visitor experience. They simply need to be willing to share and collaborate with a team, like Antenna, to help them identify the story and determine how to successfully tell it.

Next, Antenna worked to build an immersive, linear tour route that both told Palais Garnier’s story in a cohesive way and accommodated a range of visitor preferences—visitors seeking in-depth storytelling can follow the tour from start to finish for a fluid, compelling experience; those that want a more free-roaming visit can still enjoy an engaging story, even if stops are skipped or visited out of order.

The other key challenge was to address complaints from visitors that the main attraction of the site (the auditorium) is often closed or inaccessible due to rehearsals or scenery installations. Similarly, visitors have access to only a small part of Palais Garnier, and many shared with the site team that they wanted to see more of the building.
So, for the premium iPad tour, Antenna decided to make use of the device’s size and enhanced functionality to create a beautiful, high-end experience that would allow visitors to enjoy the aspects of Palais Garnier that they wanted to see but couldn’t with the original iPod tour.

Using rich imagery and graphics, the team developed interactive “Behind the Scenes” hotspots that display a comprehensive blueprint of Palais Garnier. Visitors can zoom into different parts of the building and click on the areas they want to learn more about, such as Marc Chagall’s iconic painting on the auditorium ceiling, the underground lake located in the basement, or the Foyer de la Danse, an ornate backstage rehearsal room. Visitors can spend as much time as they like exploring the hotspots and have been delighted with the experience, as it gives them a detailed look at things they would otherwise never have the opportunity to see.

“The Palais Garnier tour is a great example of how imagination and innovation can marry to create an incredibly rich experience. It’s one of our most successful tours and has received incredible visitor feedback,” said Elfi Barat, Head of Creative Services at Antenna, who worked on the Palais Garnier project. “The appetite for great storytelling is strong among visitors worldwide. As our work with Palais Garnier shows, Antenna has the unique capabilities and expertise to help any institution or museum feed that appetite. We’re able to uncover real gems of stories and bring them to life in a completely fresh and unexpected way.”

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