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The Opera House, Blackpool

Formerly - Her Majesty's Opera House

Part of the Winter Gardens Complex

Blackpool Theatres Index - Blackpool Theatres Article by Donald Auty - The Blackpool Opera House Story by Barry Band

The exterior and stage house of the Opera House, Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012

Above - The exterior and stage house of the Opera House, Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012

 

The auditorium of the Blackpool Opera House, as redesigned by Mangnall and Littlewood in 1911, and shortly before the Theatre was replaced with a more modern design - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens ComplexThe Opera House which is situated in the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool, today, was built in 1939, but is a replacement for an earlier Theatre constructed on the same site and first opened as Her Majesty's Opera House on Monday the 10th of June 1889 with a production of the D'Oyly Carte company performing 'The Yeoman of the Guard. This first Theatre on the site was built for the Winter Gardens' then owner, William Holland, and was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham. Matcham would go on to create a number of other spectacular Theatres in Blackpool including the Grand Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the Tower Ballroom, and the Tower Circus.

Right - The auditorium of the Blackpool Opera House, as redesigned by Mangnall and Littlewood in 1911, and shortly before the Theatre was replaced with a more modern design - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens Complex - Caption reads: -'OPERA HOUSE (by Fortunino Matania, R.I.) The artist has here pictured the Opera House during a performance of "Carmen". The classical lines of the proscenium and quiet dignity of the decorations and appointments make the theatre one of the most beautiful in the land, as is testified by the internationally famous artistes who appear on its stage. Its seasonal spectacular ballet-revue is acclaimed the most brilliant production of its type to be staged in this country.'

The ERA printed a report on the opening of the Opera House in their 15th of June 1889 edition saying: - 'On Monday the new theatre created from the designs of Mr Frank Matcham, and styled Her Majesty's Opera House, was first opened to the public. We gave a description of the building in our last issue. The ventilation appears to be perfect, and the acoustic properties are excellent. There is a good view of the stage from every part of the house. The decorations of the proscenium, the boxes, and the front of the dress-circle, the latter in imitation of Dresden china, are exceedingly pretty, and the porcelain-like ceiling and pale blue and gold tints of various parts of the interior were generally admired. Crimson is the prevailing colour of the upholstery, and the chairs in the stalls and circle are very comfortable. The act-drop is the work of Mr Emsley, and is a creditable production.

 

A Programme for George and Alfred Black's production of 'Wedding in Paris' at the Blackpool Opera House for two weeks from the 17th of October 1955 - Kindly donated by David Lowndes.A party who came to inspect the new house were entertained at dinner at the Albion Hotel on Monday, the chairman of the Winter Gardens Company presiding. A number of toasts were drunk, including "The Winter Gardens Company " and "The Manager," to which Mr Pearson and Mr Holland respectively responded.

The Yeomen of the Guard was the opening attraction, but before the curtain rose the National Anthem was sung. The Mayor of Blackpool gave his patronage and presence, and there was a large and fashionable audience, notwithstanding that the prices had been raised. Mr D'Oyly Carte's company did full justice to the opera. Mr Charles Conyers sustained the part of Colonel Fairfax with ability.

As Elsie Maynard Min Margaret Cockburn acted and sang in a pleasing manner, and was greeted with frequent applause. Miss Harding made a capital Kate; and as Dame Carruthers, Miss Elsie Cameron scored au undoubted success. Into the part of Jack Point Mr George Thorne infused great humour, and had a hearty reception. With great ability Mr W. Lemaistre portrayed Wilfred Shadbolt; and Messrs D'Egville and Billington played their respective parts welt; as did the rest of the company. The performance was much enjoyed. - The ERA, 15th of June 1889.

Left - A Programme for George and Alfred Black's production of 'Wedding in Paris' at the Blackpool Opera House for two weeks from the 17th of October 1955 - Kindly donated by David Lowndes.

 

The Blackool Opera House first opened on Monday the 10th of June 1889 with a seating capacity of 2,500. The Theatre was built at a cost of £9,098 and was originally designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham. However, in 1911 major alterations were carried out by the architects Mangnall and Littlewood and the Theatre was enlarged (see image below).

The Blackpool Opera House as redesigned by Mangnall and Littlewood in 1911 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The Blackpool Opera House as redesigned by Mangnall and Littlewood in 1911 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Vivian Van Damm's Markova-Dolin Ballet Company costume cart outside the Blackpool Opera House in 1937 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.The Theatre would be home to many touring shows over the ensuing years, one of which was a production of the Markova-Dolin Ballet Company by Vivian Van Damm Productions in 1937.

Right - Vivian Van Damm's Markova-Dolin Ballet Company costume cart outside the Blackpool Opera House in 1937 - Courtesy Maurice Poole.

Van Damm is better known for his association with London's Windmill Theatre of course but the photograph shown right, which was reproduced in a Coronation Souvenir in 1937, shows he had other strings to his bow.

This would turn out to be one of the last shows in the Opera House before it was reconstructed in 1938. As Barry Band puts it in his article about the Opera House: -'A precise timetable was drawn up to achieve the ambitious schedule of demolishing the ornate Edwardian theatre and building a handsome modern theatre in time for the 1939 season. On Saturday October 16, 1938, as the curtain descended on the last night of All the Best, an army of Tower and Winter Gardens workmen started to remove the seats even before the last patrons had left. By Tuesday morning a bare shell remained and the demolition men moved in.' - Barry Band.

 

Fortunino Matania's painting of the Blackpool Opera House Auditorium - From the Theatre's 1939 opening brochure - Courtesy Barry BandIn 1938 the Opera House was reconstructed to the designs of the architect Charles McKeith in a Modernist Art Deco style. This new Theatre was equipped with what was then the largest stage in the Country, and opened on the 14th of June 1939 with a production of the George Formby revue 'Turned out Nice Again'.

Right - Fortunino Matania's painting of the 1939 Blackpool Opera House Auditorium - From the Theatre's 1939 reopening brochure - Courtesy Barry Band.

The Theatre's new auditorium was built on three levels, stalls, dress circle, and balcony, with a capacity of some 3,000 people. It also had a Wurlitzer 3Manual/13Ranks Theatre Organ installed, which turned out to be the last Wurlitzer to be installed in the Country. It was played on the Theatre's opening by Reginald Dixon and Horace Finch.

 

A 1940 photograph of the Blackpool Opera House as redesigned by Charles McKeith in 1939 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - A 1940 photograph of the Blackpool Opera House as redesigned by Charles McKeith in 1939 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

A Summer Season programme for George and Alfred Black's 'The Big Show' at the Opera House, Blackpool in 1955 - Kindly Donated by Pam PriorThe Theatre was used from the start for summer spectaculars, entertaining Blackpool's holiday makers in grand style, and is noted as being the first Theatre outside of London to have hosted the Royal Variety Performance, in April 1955.

At this time the Theatre was also fitted with the equipment necessary to show Cinemascope Films, although it has been used mostly for live theatre and only occasional film showings.

George and Alfred Black's 'Big Show' Summer Seasons were produced at the Blackpool Opera House for many years. A selection of programmes for these can be seen right and below.

Right - A Summer Season programme for George and Alfred Black's 'The Big Show' at the Opera House, Blackpool in 1955 - Kindly Donated by Pam Prior - On the Bill were Alma Cogan, Jimmy Jewel, Ben Warriss, The Flying de Pauls, The John Tliler Girls, Barbara Evans, Odette Crystal, Janet Grey, and the 'Augmented Opera House Orchestra' under the direction of Harry Hudson.

 

A Programme for the 'Big Show' at the Blackpool Opera House in 1961 - Courtesy Roy Cross - Click to see the entire programme A Programme for the 'Big Show' at the Blackpool Opera House in 1962 - Courtesy Roy Cross - Click to see the entire programme A Programme for the 'Big Show' at the Blackpool Opera House in 1963 - Courtesy Roy Cross - Click to see the entire programme

Above - Three 'Big Show' programmes for the Opera House, Blackpool in 1961, 1962, and 1963 - Courtesy Roy Cross - Click the covers to see the entire programmes.

 

The entrance to the Opera House which is situated in the Winter Gardens Complex - Photo M.L. August 2012

Above - The entrance to the Opera House which is situated in the Winter Gardens Complex - Photo M.L. August 2012

A board which marks the centenary of the Theatre in 1989 is placed near the entrance to the Opera House and proudly displays the many famous name which have trod its boards over the years - Photo M.L. August 2012

Above - A board which marks the centenary of the Theatre in 1989 is placed near the entrance to the Opera House and proudly displays the many famous name which have trod its boards over the years - Photo M.L. August 2012

The Opera House was refurbished in 1987 and in 2008 the Organ was also restored to working use and the Theatre now regularly hosts Organ Concerts. The Opera House hosted its second Royal Variety Performance in December 2009 when Her Majesty the Queen was in attendance.

A photograph of the auditorium of the Blackpool Opera House in 2002 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - A photograph of the auditorium of the Blackpool Opera House in 2002 - Courtesy Ted Bottle who says:- 'The Opera House is not a favourite of mine, if only the middle one (Littlewood and Mangnall) had been kept! That was beautifully designed and better than Matcham's, or is that heresy? The Opera House is now far too big as the town is no longer the holiday magnet it once was and there are no resident summer spectaculars to fill it.' - Ted Bottle.

Some of the information about the Opera House's later years on this page was gleaned from the excelent Cinema Treasures Website.

You may like to visit the Winter Gardens' own Website here.

You may also be interested in reading 'The Blackpool Opera House Story' by Barry Band on this site here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: