Saturday, 7 August 2021

Grand Opera House Ceiling

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 (later the 14th Earl of Antrim).

THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE was used as a cinema for many years then closed after bomb damage.

It reopened as a theatre in 1980, after undergoing a successful scheme of renovation and restoration.
The magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the UK of the Oriental Style applied to theatre architecture - largely Indian in character with intricate detail on the sinuously curved fronts of the two balconies and an elaborate composition of superimposed boxes surmounted by turban-domed canopies.
The ceiling, which is divided into several richly-framed painted panels, is supported on arches above the gallery slips, with large elephant heads at springing level.
Proscenium, 39' 8"; stage depth, 45'; grid increased to 60' from 52'; a new, enlarged orchestra pit, the sharp single radius curve of the orchestra rail providing the only slightly jarring note in this superb auditorium. The exterior, of brick and cast stone, is in a free mixture of Baroque, Flemish and Oriental styles - typical of Matcham’s earlier work.
Frank Matcham made good use of the corner site by building up the composition of his design in stages, linked by strapwork scrolls, to the triangular-pedimented central gable which is flanked by domed minarets.

The Grand Opera House, Belfast, in 2021)

The relatively recent projecting glass extension to the former first floor bar (the Crush Bar) is said to be in the spirit of Matcham’s architecture.

It's reminiscent of an elevated conservatory or glass-house.

In 1982, it was made complete by the addition of the visually important column supports.

In 1991 and 1993, the theatre was damaged by terrorist bombs.

This necessitated considerable rebuilding of the Glengall Street dressing-room block and stage door.

Fortunately the auditorium suffered only superficial damage. 

In 2006, an extension was added to the original building on the site of the former Hippodrome/New Vic cinema, costing £10.5 million.

In January, 2020, the opera house closed in order to carry out a major £12.2 million restoration of its interior, including new seating, stage and auditorium curtaining, carpeting, air conditioning, and crush bar.

The 2006 extension was virtually rebuilt, with a completely new façade and interior.

Following the 2020-21 refurbishment, and a delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the opera house will reopen on the 6th October, 2021, with performances of the musical Six.

Paul Coleman has provided several images of the ceiling.  First published in May, 2010.


Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Wasn't Cherith McKinstry the wife of the architect of the restoration?

Timothy Belmont said...

Yes, I think so, Alan. I think we're so fortunate to have such a wonderful theatre.