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In the 1860's, to maintain the grand opera works in the repertoire, the opera administration searched for composers outside of France. This policy was strongly criticized by the press. The administration felt the Opera was the nation's stage and they had no interest in the musical works of France's younger composers. Prior composers such as, Bellini and Rossini, were considered to have lost their popularity in the 1850's. In the 1860's, Bellini's Romeo et Juliette and Rossini's Semiramis were translated into French.

The opera administration considered Giacomo Meyerbeer and Giuseppe Verdi as members of the nation's Legion of Honor. Meyerbeer, a German composer, lived in Berlin and wrote for France. Verdi, an Italian composer, wrote for France while living in Busseto, Italy, Paris during the 1850's and later in Genoa, Italy. Although, composers such as Charles Gounod and Felicien David were allowed to perform at the Opera, their work was described as being more suited for the Theatre-Lyrique.

Richard Wagner, a German composer, was controversial. Wagner was supported by Napoleon III. During this time, Wagner had lost support from the Republicans who viewed him too closely associated with Napoleon III. In 1860, Wagner was banned from Germany.

To insure Wagner's success, in 1861, Alfonse Royer, the Opera Director, offered extensive professional advice which he rejected. Wagner preferred to manage every detail of his productions. On March 13, 1861, Wagner rewrote Tannhauser in French and insisted that the ballet be added to the Venusburg scene in the first act rather than during in the second act. The aristocrats in the Jockey Club and the "abonnees", members of a group who objected to all foreign works, thought the performance was long and boring. Both groups howled the opera off the staged. The "abonnees", however, did except Rossini and Verdi. Rossini was accepted because he became a resident of Paris. Verdi was accepted because he was viewed as a liberal.

On March 18, 1861, during the second performance of Tannhauser, Wagner deliberately cut several sections out of his composition. This time, the audience became hostile and started to make animal noises. The audience became more and more vocal, just as the emperor and empress ceremoniously entered the Opera House during the end of the second act. The audience that saw them, respectively clapped, however, the audience that did not continued to whistle so load that the music could not be heard.

In 1891, Peter Gailhard, the Opera Director, presented Wagner's Lohengrin. The audience and the "abonnees" reacted badly by throwing stinkbombs. The "abonnees" were influential in causing France to become the first country to reject Wagner's Ring and Strauss's Elektra. The Ring, composed in 1857, was not performed until 1911; and the Elecktra, written between 1908 - 1909, was performed in Paris in 1933.

Two critics who disapproved of Wagner's work labeled him the "Courbet of Music." This linked Wagner to an artistic movement of realism. One other critic, Champfleury, called him the "Courbet of literature." There was no evidence that Wagner joined the Nazi party, however, Adolf Hitler admired his work.