Grand Opera House Belfast
By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing
When the Grand Opera House in Belfast opened in December 1895 it was described by its owner as “a credit to our flourishing city”. And 120 years later that description is just as apt today.
This magnificent example of Victorian architecture was designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham from London, who wanted it to reflect Belfast’s status as the prosperous, confident and industrial powerhouse that it was.
In fact, Gustav Wolff, of Harland & Wolff fame was one of the invited dignitaries at the grand opening.
Its striking exterior is as impressive as its extravagant and ornate auditorium with its opulent ceiling and intricate boxes – and if you look closely you’ll notice that there’s a distinct Indian theme which evokes memories of the heady days of the British Empire and the Raj.
Thousands of stars from the world of showbusiness have graced its stage over the years including the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti who made his UK debut here back in 1963 in the opera Madam Butterfly. And what a treat for local singer Margaret Smyth who starred opposite him!
Local actors and musicians, too, have tread the boards here – some of whom like Kenneth Branagh and Van Morrison have gone on to international fame.
By the way, the Grand Opera House is only a few minutes’ walk from Stop No 20 on Belfast City Sightseeing’s hop-on hop-off open-top bus tour. So do all, or even part, of our tour and hop-off here to see this beautiful building for yourself.
The very first show was a pantomime called Blue Beard and Frank Matcham was introduced on stage to the Belfast audience at a special gala opening performance.
Panto has played a huge role in the Grand Opera House’s success with generations of audiences enjoying this traditional Christmas entertainment at sell-out shows year after year.
Just before Christmas the local actor John Linehan, who has played the pantomime dame, May McFettridge, for 25 consecutive years at the Grand Opera House was given a special award to mark the occasion.
He was presented with a bust of May McFettridge which will be kept permanently on display in the Grand Circle opposite the bust of Frank Matcham.
As a child I spent nearly weekend there, accompanying my Granny who worked there as a dresser. My Granda was a stagehand, as were my uncles, so the Grand Opera House has a special place in my heart – made all the more so as I soaked up the atmosphere and some of the magic of the theatre courtesy of my Granny’s “comps”!
So make sure to take advantage of Belfast City Sightseeing’s 48-hour hop-on hop-off open-top bus ticket and hop-off at Stop No 20 to see for yourself just what the Grand Opera House has to offer.