The Opera House, Carlisle Road, Londonderry
The Opera House which formerly stood on Carlisle Road, Londonderry was constructed by M'Clelland and Co of Londonderry, and designed by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps. Construction began in January 1877 and was completed in 9 months, and the Theatre could accommodate upwards of 1,600 people on its opening. The Theatre's first night production was 'The Lady of Lyons' on Friday August the 10th 1877. In the cast were Henry Hampton, Claude Melnotte, J. G. Swanton, Thomas Allwood, John Bellair, Emily Stafford, Emma Hampton, and Mrs Roberts. This was followed by a speech by the manager J. F. Warden and then a performance of the play 'Stage Struck'.
The ERA reported on the newly opened Opera House in their August the 19th 1877 edition saying: 'There is evidently no lack of enterprise at Londonderry, and Mr J. F. Warden is to be complimented upon the magnificent new Opera House, which he opened on Friday, August 10th, with so much success.
The new Opera House is situated on an admirable site in the Carlisle-road - one of the best positions in the city. The frontage is of red brick, with moulded bricks and stone for the ornamental portions. It has three large entrance doorways on the street level, six feet wide each, giving access respectively to the pit, the balcony and pit, and gallery. These entrances are surmounted with circular arched heads. On the first floor is an arcade of five circular-headed windows, and the facade is surmounted by a mansard roof, with a centre brick dormer, having three windows lighting the second storey or gallery. The doorway in the centre of the facade enters upon a vestibule in which, on one side, is the box office; on the other an office for the Manager. Immediately opposite the doorway, through a pair of swing doors, is the grand staircase leading to the balcony and upper circle. The pit is entered through a doorway at the lower side of the facade, and will be on level with the footpath of road. The gallery has a staircase at the upper side of the frontage.
There is a comfortable pit capable of accommodating from 600 to 700 persons, in twenty-two rows of seats. On the first tier is a balcony of four rows, with luxurious chairs, upholstered in crimson velvet, to seat 108 persons. Behind this are five rows of seats, with stuffed backs, to hold 100, and accommodation for a similar number to stand in the corridor at back. Opening out of this corridor is a refreshment-room, and retiring-room for both ladies and gentlemen. The gallery or second tier only projects to the circular line of the upper circle, and is supported by ornamental iron columns. It has fourteen rows of seats, to hold 700 persons, and in the whole Theatre there is not a single seat which does not command a full and equally good view of the stage.
Refreshment counters are arranged behind both pit and
gallery. There are also four private boxes. The stage is very spacious,
and is capable of receiving the scenery
from the Belfast and Dublin
Gaiety, and others of the principal Theatres, so that all effects
produced in the Theatres of
the larger towns can be equally well transferred
Behind the stage are two floors of dressing - rooms, with green - rooms, property-rooms, and the usual adjuncts of a first-class Theatre. The building is adapted not only for dramatic performances, but :for concerts, public meetings, and any large gathering, holding some 1,600 people. It will prove a great acquisition to the city in many ways.
The act-drop and scenery are entirely new, and painted expressly for this Theatre by Mr Thomas Gilmore, of Belfast, and numerous assistants. The building has been admirably constructed by Messrs M'Clelland and Co., of Londonderry, who only took possession of the ground in January last, and have completed the works to the architect's entire satisfaction within the time specified in their contract.'
The ERA also reported on the opening production in the same article saying: 'Mr Warden has every reason to be gratified with the result of his experiment, to judge by the appearance of the house on the opening night, for it was crowded to the remotest corner. The play was The Lady of Lyons. Mr Henry Hampton was the Claude Melnotte, and his rendering of the character was extremely successful. Mr J. G. Swanton, an artiste of ability, played well as Beauscant, and was well received. As Glavis Mr Thomas Allwood lacked spirit, though, on the whole, his acting was very fair. Mr John Bellair made a very good Damas. Miss Emily Stafford proved a most attractive Pauline, and acted throughout with the tenderness and grace most becoming to the character. Miss Emma Hampton's Widow Melnotte was subdued and entirely consistent; but Mrs Roberts, in the part of Madame Deschappelles, would have been more appreciated had she been less forcible. The other members of the company engaged in the cast appeared fairly equal to their business.
Before the concluding item Stage Struck was proceeded with Mr Warden came to the front, amid deafening applause, and addressed the audience. He said his first duty was to welcome them to the new house. Their patronage that evening gave him great hopes for the future. His especial thanks were due to the contractors, and the result of their labours spoke for itself. To Mr Phipps, the architect, he was also greatly indebted. Mr Warden further stated his intentions for the future. He intended to give the best possible entertainment, and was determined that it should be pure as well as good.'
The Opera House, Londonderry opened on Friday August the 10th 1877 but was converted for Cinema use in 1938. This was not to last long however, as a serious fire lead to the demolition of the Theatre in 1940.
A new book by Nuala McAllister Hart called 'From Farquhar to Field Day, Three Centuries of Music and Theatre in Derry - Londonderry', was launched on the 6th of September 2012 and looks to be a very interesting read. It also includes some information on Arthur Lloyd performing at the Opera House in his play 'Ballyvogan'. Details of the book and its cover (shown right) are courtesy Nuala McAllister Hart.
'Derry~Londonderry has a distinctive cultural history which reflects its unique position in the history of Ireland. This ground-breaking book examines three centuries of music and theatre in the city, highlighting the key figures and turning points in its cultural life. It documents the rich diversity of drama and concerts played out in the citys theatres and concert halls, from the birth of playwright George Farquhar in 1677 to performances by the Field Day Theatre Company and the cultural revival of the 1990s and beyond.'
The book is published by The History Press Ireland, 119 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2 Ireland, www.thehistorypress.ie.
Click here to buy the book at Amazon.co.uk.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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