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Royalty Restored: The Royal Opera House Is Back



Royalty Restored: The Royal Opera House Is Back

Everything you need to know about the Royal Opera House to get up to speed

Every year on the 2nd of April, iconic buildings around the world are illuminated in blue to mark World Autism Awareness Day. This year, Mumbai took part in this endeavour and apart from the regular landmarks like the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, a relatively new addition to the urban landscape found itself bathed in blue – the Royal Opera House.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Royal Opera House to get up to speed:

1. Design

The design of the opera house is in the baroque style. Baroque architecture is a building style that began in 16th century Italy, known for exaggerating elements for rhetorical or theatrical purposes. The marvellous front facade, surmounted by an exquisitely carved pediment depicts angels, a likeness of Shakespeare and musicians playing the violin, harp and cello to highlight the tradition of performing arts. In tune with the baroque style, a rich interior was created with painted murals on the interiors of the dome, ornate plasterwork, Italian marble flooring and crystal chandeliers. The total cost of the structure, completed in 1916, was Rs 7.5 lakhs, less than a unfurnished studio apartment in modern Mumbai!

2. History

Not long after it’s completion, the opera house, originally conceived to celebrate the performing arts, started functioning in part as a cinema hall as it became tough to profit from staging operas exclusively. Many of Raj Kapoor’s films premiered at the opera house. It was known for hosting fashion shows and live stage performances by the likes of Prithviraj Kapoor, Bal Gandharva and Dinanath Mangeshkar. The legendary Lata Mangeshkar gave her first ever musical performance at the opera house. In the late nineties, with the advent of multiplexes, home entertainment systems and widespread piracy, single-screen cinema halls like the opera house fell out of favour before shutting down completely in 1993. The Royal Opera House, once a symbol of Mumbai’s pride, became a derelict, rumoured-to-be haunted mansion.

3. Back in Form – Restoration

The royal family of Gondal, who acquired the building in 1952, commissioned the restoration, and work began in 2009 with the help of conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah. The aim was to restore the building exactly as it was originally designed a 100 years ago. After more than two decades of neglect, the balconies were leaning outwards and the roof needed repairs. It took two years to re-establish the structural integrity of the building. Miss Lambah and her team carefully studied archival photographs to understand the colours and interiors. Acoustic consultants, stained glass conservators and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) experts joined forces to bring the technology of the 21st century to the architecture of the 20th century. After seven years, this labour of love bore fruit and everything, from the regal facade to the luxurious interiors, was restored.

4. Back in Spirit – Live Performances

Since its reopening in October last year, the Opera House has regularly hosted musical and theatre performances. Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan graced the stage in February. The Orchestra da Camera di Mantova, an Italian orchestra, performed in March, as if to pay homage to the original architects of the opera house.

5. Stand-up Comedy

Surprisingly, the birth of the English stand-up comedy scene in India coincides with the restoration efforts as the first comedy club in Mumbai, The Comedy Store, opened in 2009. It took seven years, same time as the restoration, for stand-up to become mainstream. It was almost poetic when the opera house opened its doors to three stand-up comedians, Kenneth Sebastian, Kanan Gill and Aditi Mittal, for taping their hour-long specials. Aditi Mittal recalls her experience, “It was an honour to perform there. So many generations of Mumbaikars have been entertained there. As a performer, I felt like I had to be at my best to be able to do justice to the beauty of the venue.” But, on second thought, comedy at the opera house sounds like an anachronism and Aditi agrees, “A very contemporary art form (being performed) at a very historical location. But in spite of that paradox, both did not feel like they were out of place.”

Currently undergoing minor renovation, the Royal Opera House reopens on 26th May to host Lucy Rose’s India tour.

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