The £12.2 million restoration and development of the Grand Opera House in Belfast has been completed, allowing the Grand Opera House Trust and its Chief Executive to plan for its full reopening in line with the recovery from the covid-19 pandemic. The results of the restoration project were unveiled to key stakeholders and media today, and the Theatre will reopen to the public with bookable Theatre Tours in July. These tours will precede the full reopening of the Theatre for performances later in the year, subject to the covid-19 public health guidance at that time.
The restoration project, which is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Department for Communities, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Foyle Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and The Wolfson Foundation, has seen the auditorium’s paintings and decorative and ornate plasterwork painstakingly restored and conserved, as well as new seating, carpets, curtains and drapes installed. The design of the foyer and public spaces has been totally reimagined, with a new bar installed in the restored 1980 glass extension overhanging Great Victoria Street, as well as beautifully refurbished stalls and circle bars. As part of the project, the Theatre’s technical infrastructure has been upgraded and a permanent heritage exhibition installed telling the fascinating story of the Theatre’s 125-year history. Facilities for those customers with access needs have also been greatly enhanced throughout.
Speaking about the completion of the project Colin Loughran, Chairman of the Grand Opera House Trust, said: “Today is a momentous day in the long and proud history of the Grand Opera House and represents a significant ray of light in the darkness of the last year. The ambitious restoration project has delivered fantastic results and we are hugely confident that it will ensure the Theatre remains on the world stage as a centre for theatregoing and as a Belfast visitor and tourist attraction. We would like to thank our funding partners for their unwavering support which has helped to secure the Theatre for generations to come.”
Welcoming the project completion, Paul Mullan, Director, Northern Ireland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted to support the Grand Opera House with the restoration of this historic Grade A listed building in the heart of Belfast, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. “This is a significant project which will help to protect the heritage of the Theatre, as well as provide opportunities for people to explore its history for many years to come. “The work to conserve the building’s unique architectural features and paintings has also been undertaken by local conservationists and tradespeople, which emphasises the value that heritage brings to the economy, people and wider community. “As we emerge from the pandemic, heritage has a vital role to play in our recovery and venues like the Grand Opera House will be instrumental in helping the sector to thrive once again.”
RoisÍn McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “The Arts Council is very pleased to see work completed on this important historic building and we very much look forward to the day when it can reopen fully and once again welcome back audiences to enjoy shows in this beautiful Theatre.
“The Arts Council has funded the Grand Opera House for many years, and we recognise its value as one of the city’s most important cultural assets and the enormous contribution it makes to the local economy. This vital restoration work will ensure the Theatre’s place for future generations of audiences, actors and theatre makers, protecting one of our most celebrated and treasured cultural landmarks for many years to come.”
The project was delivered by specialist construction firm, Tracey Brothers Ltd, and more than 60 sub-contractors. John Tracey, Director of Tracey Brothers, said: “The project was unusual as it was made up of two separate sites. The focus of the work was the extensive restoration of the 1895 listed building and the installation of state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems to meet modern-day theatregoer expectations. Alongside this was the reimagination of the 2006 extension to make it more sympathetic to the Matcham building, complete with a stunning helical staircase, enhanced bar and hospitality facilities, and the installation of new interpretative spaces telling the story of the Grand Opera House.
“Tracey Brothers are delighted to have been involved in the project and the quality of the final result is testament to all involved. We hope that the Grand Opera House continues, not only as a source of great entertainment for young and old alike, but also as a landmark Belfast venue to visit for many years to come.”
Ian Wilson, Chief Executive of the Grand Opera House added: “The Grand Opera House was last restored 40 years ago, and we are delighted that this vital project for the Belfast arts scene has been completed.
“The restoration of the iconic and unique 1895 auditorium is stunning and maximises the beauty of the original architecture. Alongside the transformation of the public areas and facilities within the building, theatregoers will have a much-improved experience from the minute they walk through our doors. The installation of the first ever permanent heritage exhibition to tell the Theatre’s story over its 125-year history is also a welcome addition and is expected to attract thousands of visitors each year. After being closed for well over a year, the whole team are very excited to be planning for the full reopening with an exciting programme of performances. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming visitors to the public Theatre Tours which will begin in July”.
As well as Tracey Brothers as main contractor, the project team included architects Consarc Design Group, interior design by Sundara Design, project management WH Stephens, special theatre consultants Charcoalblue, M&E by Semple & McKillop, and structural engineering by Albert Fry Associates.
The Grand Opera House was designed by the leading Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham and opened on 23 December 1895. Many of the world’s leading actors, singers, dancers and entertainers have appeared on its stage, including Charlie Chaplin, Sarah Bernhardt, Laurence Olivier, Vera Lynn, Luciano Pavarotti, Darcey Bussell and Laurel and Hardy.
Theatre Tours are now available for booking on the Theatre’s website at goh.co.uk and will be subject to the latest covid public health guidance and social distancing rules at all times.