Royal Opera House Mumbai opens after 20 years

OCT 20, 2016 | By Aditi Sharma Maheshwari
“Ladies, it’s time again to dress up in your chiffon saris and wear your glittering diamonds. Men, dig out your tuxedoes and black ties. Soon, an era of culture and performance will sweep Mumbai. Here you will be able to see the best of Parsi, Marathi, Hindi, English, Gujarati theatre, and live opera of course!” said Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect while revealing the sneak-peek preview of the iconic Royal Opera House that she and a huge team of consultants, engineers and historians helped restore.
The royal Gondol family of Gujarat, who took over this 574 seater, three level palatial Baroque auditorium in 1952, commissioned its refurbishment in 2010. After six long years of incessant work and 23 years of facing a shut down, it will now open on an inaugural JIO MAMI event on October 20, 2016. Asad Lalljee of Avid Learning will be curating the cultural revival of the place henceforth. “Before starting the conservation efforts, we looked at old pictures of the building provided to us by Sharada Dwiwedi, perhaps the greatest historian of Mumbai. We also referred to a 1970s tome, The Territorials of India that dedicated an entire chapter to this place,” says Abha.
For the interiors, Anupam Shah of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya helped the team. The famous Manikandan, who has previously revived Raja Ravi Verma paintings, Baroda Palace artwork and so forth, restored the art in the building. Stained glass panels were imported from England and worked on by Swati Chandgadkar, who is a specialist restorer and has worked on projects like St Thomas Cathedral and Rajabai Clock tower.
Post all the relentless work and extensive research, this iconic structure today gives the appearance of how it looked in 1916, when it was in its full glory. “A city like Mumbai needs a venue like this. This is one with a rich legacy and will bring back the old world charm,” says Maharani Kumud Kumari of the Gondol family. Celebrating 100 years of the building’s existance, Abha signs off by saying, “Today we are celebrating decadence, luxury, royalty and culture; all of which are synonyms to the Royal Opera House.”
Things you didn’t know about Royal Opera House:
1. Opera house was built on October 16, 1908 by a Parsi theatre actor, Jehangir Framji Karaka and an American, Maurice Bandmann.
2. Even before the building was completed and was literally roofless, King George V visited Mumbai and the locals decided to have a theater production in honour of his visit. They simply used drapes and silks to cover up the space and set up a play inside. Post his visit in 1911, the name of the building was prefixed with “Royal”.
3. Chandeliers from the Jewish philanthropist David Sassoon’s house found pride of place.
4. In 1935, the earliest films on the British Pathe started getting screened at Opera House. Due to the popularity of those films and the changing mood of entertainment, the place was transformed into a movie hall.
5. Around this time, Mahatma Gandhi held an important freedom movement meeting here.
6. According to legend, the pioneer of Indian theatre and films, Prithvi Raj Kapoor almost made Royal Opera House his second home, staying at the top floor for months.
7. This has been the cradle of live performances for a century, having hosted the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Dinanath Mangeshkar, Bal Gandharv among many others.
8. Its ownership was passed on to the Maharaja of Gondol Shri Vikramsinhji who bought the Opera House in 1952.
9. Many 1970s films were shot here like the Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Mumtaz Mahal starrer Prem Kahani.
10. The 1970s aesthetic took over and the three tiered balconies and foyers were painted in the jarring colours of cassata pink, magenta and parrot green.
11. Single screen culture took a hit in 1980 and the place shut down.
12. Post almost four decades, in 1993 the Kathiawad fashion show took place here.
13. The restoration of this building finally began in 2010 and is now nearing completion in 2016.
Instagram: @mumbaiopera
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