Friday, 10 June 2016

The Mikado

It's not often that I use the train, though it suited me yesterday because I was going to see The Mikado at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

There was no sign of a conductor on the train I took from Sydenham to Great Victoria Street; nor was there a conductor on my train home at about ten thirty or so.

As a consequence I was unable to buy a ticket.

Some might think I'm "having a go" at Northern Ireland Railways, though generally I find their service most satisfactory.

Mind you, the diesel fumes were unpleasant on the platform in the city centre.

Would any future Diesel Tax affect the running costs of this public service, I wonder?

Alighting at Great Victoria Street station, I made a beeline for the celebrated Europa Hotel, a mere few minutes' walk away.

I'm fond of the Europa.

It has withstood many years of civil turmoil and unrest in this city; multiple bombings; major damage.

And yet, despite that, this hotel has survived and, I am glad to say, flourishes as Belfast's most renowned and esteemed hotel.

I was at prep school with Howard Hastings and his family has invested a very considerable amount of money in upgrading and extending the hotel.

I ambled up the spiral stairs to the Piano Bar, where I ordered the customary (!) restorative, accompanied by smoked salmon sandwiches.

The Europa is ideally placed for pre-theatre refreshments because it is virtually beside the opera house (only Glengall Street divides them).

Having spent a good hour or more, happily installed with my iPad, overlooking the famous Crown Bar across the street, I made my way towards the Grand Opera House, one of Belfast's finest buildings.

The Grand Opera House boasts one of the most opulent auditoriums (or should that be auditoria?) in the United Kingdom.

It was designed by Frank Matcham in 1895.

Every time I visit the Grand Opera House in Belfast I always admire the ceiling.

It originally had six painted ceiling panels, the blue sky with stars above the oriental balcony with its small potted palms.

When the opera house was being restored in the 1980s, an artist was sought who could recreate the scene in a sympathetic manner.

Cherith McKinstry was selected.

It was felt that her re-interpretation complemented the four surviving painted roundels, which were re-mounted on fibreglass saucer domes, and the cartouche of female musicians inside the segmental arch over the proscenium opening.

The roundels and cartouche were exquisitely restored and cleaned by Alexander Dunluce, now the Earl of Antrim.


At length the red curtain raised and the show began.

The co-production was by Scottish Opera and D'Oyly Carte Opera.

I'm sure many readers will recall such Gilbert & Sullivan songs as "Three Little Maids", "Tit-Willow", and "I've Got A Little List".

The entire cast was excellent, not least the baritone Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner.

I managed to get home in time to be entertained by a particularly animated (!) edition of the BBC's Question Time.

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