Except for a short period under the Second Empire, the State conceded the Opera to a contracted director, in other words a private entrepreneur often backed by a financial “commandite” company, for a period of six years, renewable. The then so called “director-entrepreneur” received each year a state subsidy, fixed until the end of the 1920s, the amount of which rarely exceeded 20% of the institution’s budget. The contracted director either benefited from the positive results of his management, or assumed the losses. The Opera’s concession contract is a model of clarity and precision. In particular, it sets the number of shows, and the number of new works to be created, to which the director is held, under penalty of sanctions, or even withdrawal of his concession.
The audience of the Paris Opera continues to have its basis in the double attraction of ballet shows and lyrical works. The Paris Opera is also the social place by excellence to go to and to be seen. The opening of the Palais Garnier in 1875, the most beautiful modern monument of its time in Paris, again raised its social prestige as it contributed to the appeal of the French capital. The obligation to create new works was honored. However, scheduling continually emphasised the considerable importance of a limited number of lyrical works. (Thus, between 1875 and 1960, a period going beyond the concession which ended after 1936, five operas from Gounod, Reyer and Saint Saens accounted for almost 20% of performances.)
The financial results of the concession were economically balanced or had the potential to be so until the eve of the First World War. They collapsed after 1918 under the two-fold impact of the inflation, and salary increases occurring in France at the time. Neither the amount of the subsidy, readjusted at the turn of the 1920s, nor the commitment of a large part of the last concessionaire, Jacques Rouche’s, fortune, were enough to save the economics of the Paris Opera.
The Paris Opera head is at the same time a theatre manager and a show producer, and according to today’s terms, a “director” (designer). He has the directorial powers necessary to fulfill correctly his mandate though, between 1830 and 1936, the concession contract defines in an increasingly precise manner the recognized rights of the Opera’s artists and permanent staff members, as well as their status and salaries.
Three themes dominated Parliamentary debate on the Paris Opera at the end of the 19th century: Were the subsidy and its amount justified? How could access to opera performances be more democratically open? How the Paris Opera could and should offer more room – and protection- to French composers?