BBC Music Magazine
22. Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House is on Great Victoria Street, next door to Belfast’s best known building, the Europa Hotel. It is hard to miss, with its name proudly spelt out in large letters on its red and cream frontage. There’s elegance inside, too, its auditorium an ornate display of red and gold.
Designed by Frank Matcham, the opera house from the outset hosted an array of entertainment well beyond what its name implies – plays, ballet and comedy acts were also regularly on the bill. Famous names to have appeared on its stage include actress Gracie Fields in 1933 and a young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti who, in 1963, made his UK debut here as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly.
The Troubles brought hard times for the Grand Opera House. In the early 1970s, with Belfast having become something of a ghost town at night, demolition was proposed. Fortunately, major restoration took place instead and audience numbers rose, though in 1991 and ’93 car bombs aimed at the Europa Hotel caused extensive damage. Next year the venue celebrates its 125th anniversary, with a tenmonth renovation followed by what promises to be a season of spectacular events.