Grand Opera House, Belfast
If you're visiting Belfast over several days, you may want to consider the possibility of seeing a show or attending an event at Belfast's elegant-looking Grand Opera House. It's in the center of Belfast and schedules a wide range of performances throughout the year. We only had time to walk by it really and snap a few photos though a tour would have been a nice way to see the interior.
The Belfast Grand Opera House has had a long and very interesting history. Built during the golden years of Belfast history, the Grand Opera House stage curtain rose for the inaugural performance on December 23, 1895. Designed by architect Frank Matcham, and owned by Joseph F. Warden, the first season offered a great variety of stage acts: burlesque, musical comedies, farces and melodramas, as well as classical opera, and drama with performances of Shakespeare. It was renamed the "Palace of Varieties" after the turn of the century but only for a period of about 5 years after which it reverted to its original name.
Over the years the Grand Opera House has hosted famous guests such as when a repertory company of actors performed for General Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshall Montgomery in 1945. But it has also provided the stage for famous performers: George Formby, Laurel and Hardy, and in 1963, a then unknown tenor named Luciano Pavarotti. By 1972, the Grand Opera House was on the brink of demolition, but at the last minute was saved by the Ulster Architectural Society who had launched a campaign to save the building. Many changes have taken place since those times.
Even today the Grand Opera House keeps Belfast entertained with an impressive list of plays, special engagement performances, dance, opera, musicals, and more which is a good indication that people trust that peace will prevail in Northern Ireland. It was only a little over two decades ago that the Grand Opera House was damaged by car bombs in 1991 and 1993. Its subsequent repair and renovation included the addition of blast walls to protect the auditorium though not the exterior --- very sad to think this kind of thing is necessary --- and this maybe the only opera house in the world to have these.
Tours of the Grand Opera House can be arranged by contacting the Box Office on T: 028 9024 1919. From the website: "The Grand Opera House Belfast Box Office is open Monday - Saturday 10.00am - 5.00pm. The Box Office is closed on Sundays and opening hours vary on Bank Holidays. Tickets may be bought online, at the Box Office Counter in the theatre foyer, or by calling 028 9024 1919."
The light was really waning fast by this time, and I could get no good photos of the Grand Opera House except the closeup ones you see on this page. Other than the odd pint, we really hadn't eaten for some time. After freshening up, we decided to stay at the hotel and have pre-dinner drinks and have a light meal in "The Bar at the Fitzwilliam". It was a good decision.
This impressive building is partly due to its red brick color one of the most striking buildings in Belfast
It is built in Victorian style and completely restored in 1980.
Inside are statues of elephants that support the balconies the biggest highlights. Over the years, many great opera voices already stood on the podium, including Pavarotti. Besides opera ballet performances are also given. For an evening of classical art , you here definitely in the right place
Next to the Europa Bus Station is the Grand Opera House (well next door but one to the Europa Hotel, which holds the dubious title of being 'The most bombed hotel in Europe' during the troubles - though you wouldn't know this to look at it today!)
I only saw this place from the outside-firstly from the pavement, then later from the top of the Belfast Hop on Hop off Tour bus.
The Grand Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham, who was famed as a theatrical architect. It opened to the public on 23rd December 1895. Over the years, it has gained a reputation for its productions from the artistic fields of Opera, Ballet, Variety, Musicals, Drama, Pantomime etc.
From 1904-09 it was renamed The Palace of Varieties' although it was in the 1920's -30's that it was noted for its 'Variety Shows', with the stars of the time such as Gracie Fields and Wilfred Pickles treading its boards.
The Opera house suffered at times. During WW2 the Opera House became a repertory theatre company.
In 1949, the Opera House was bought by the Rank Organisation, when it was to be used as a cinema - Television had become a popular form of entertainment, with families gathering around 'the box' in their own homes, so takings at the ticket office fell, then even further during 'The Troubles' - (remember this building is next door to the most bombed hotel in Europe!) which enforced a closure of the cinema in 1972. Things were so bad that 2 years later, it was decided to demolish this building.
However, it gained a reprieve! Someone recognised its architectural/ historical importance, and it was to be known as Belfasts first listed building. In 1976, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland bought the Opera House, saving it for the city.
In 1980, after a huge restoration project, the Opera House opened once again as a symbol of Belfasts regeneration. Despite 2 bombings by the IRA in 1991 and 1993, which caused severe damage, the opera house company carried on and were recognised by the Arts world, in being invited to host the 1994 BAFTA Awards, as well as subsequent international/ nationally acclaimed productions.
Further restoration in 2006 has enhanced this Victorian Opera House. So as well as enjoying the performances, you can pop into 'Lucianos Coffee Bar*' from 10am to enjoy a morning coffee and cakes, or a light lunch from midday. Or for something more substantial-there is the Hippodrome Restaurant You can also enjoy a drink before, during the interval or at the end of a performance in one of the 2 bars.
*Lucianos Coffee Bar is named after the world renowned Italian Tenor- Luciano Pavarotti - It was in this very building that he made his UK debut in 1963 - in the role of Lieutenant Pinkerton in the opera Madame Butterfly. (Though I'm a bit confused now, as I understood that from 1949-1972 it was a cinema!) - back to my research.....
The original Grand Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham and was opened in 1895. It was a great success and hosted many different events over the following 50 years or so. It suffered a little with the advent of television and closed down in 1972 at the height of the Troubles. It was saved by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and reopened in 1980. Since then, despite being the target of two IRA bomb attacks, it has flourished and is now one of Northern Ireland’s premier venues for theatre, ballet, musicals and touring shows. An extension in 2006 added a second smaller theatre, the Baby Grand, plus restaurants, galleries and bars.
The Grand Opera House is one of the city's great signature buildings. Restored to its Victorian glory in 1980, it is a masterpiece in gilt and plush scarlet; the pièce de la resistance of this lavish interior being the elephants that support the boxes! (Pavarotti got his first break here.) The venue maintains its operatic traditions, with regular visits by some of the world's great opera companies. In recent years, the Royal Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet have both performed at this venue. Ticket prices vary per performance; check out the Website for details.
Built in 1894-1895 (Achitect Frank Matcham)
He was the leading theatre architect of his time. It has very fine twin domes, Moorish lantern and ornamental pediment. Restored in 1980 following bomb damage and years of dereliction, and bombed twice since. Now restored to glory, and the centrepiece of Belfast?s `Golden Mile?.