December is a GREAT time to visit Belfast, with shows, markets, & Christmas buzz galore.
And guess who’s turning 120 this December in Belfast?
It’s that lovely Victorian lady, the Grand Opera House Belfast!
It’s so easy to take the train from Dublin to Belfast or to just drive, and I’m super excited to be going myself during the start of the Christmas season. I’ll be reporting to you on the Belfast Christmas buzz & culture, the markets & unique spots to find gifts, the fabulous Mount Stewart Festival of Light, the delights of Northern Ireland’s own gin, Shortcross, and the scoop on great places to eat & drink, including the Belfast Food Tour. Whew! Though I’ll miss out on going myself this trip, the Grand Opera House Belfast has plenty on this December; so here’s more on her 120th anniversary & upcoming shows:
BELFAST OPERA HOUSE REACHES GRAND OLD AGE
This December will see Belfast’s majestic Grand Opera House celebrate its 120th Anniversary since the curtain first rose on December 23rd 1895. Located in the heart of Belfast’s bustling city centre, the Grand Opera House has delivered an unrivalled programme of entertainment over the course of its illustrious 120 year history and has played host to some of the greatest names in theatre and music.
“The rich heritage of the Grand Opera House make it a unique venue, with a history every bit as eventful as some of the shows produced on its famous stage. The diverse range of shows and performances which take place in the Grand Opera House make it a must see attraction for culture lovers on a trip to Belfast,” Tourism NI’s ROI Market Manager, Fiona Cunningham said.
“There are a wide range of performances, musicals and shows to suit every age and taste and visitors to this iconic building can also enjoy a fun short break in Belfast by staying in one of the nearby luxurious hotels or B&B’s,” added Fiona.
Designed by prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham, it was a huge success from the outset, hosting a vibrant programme of opera, drama, pantomime, comedies, musicals and classic drama with regular performances of Shakespearean plays. In 1895, the capacity of the theatre was 2,500 (more than double what it is today) and the Victorian auditorium boasted all the luxuries of the day including tip-up seats, electric lighting, central heating and air conditioning.
The Grand Opera House has attracted large audiences right from the start, delivering an enviable programme of entertainment. Even the Great Depression in the 1930’s had little impact on audience numbers, with the highlight of the decade being a visit by Gracie Fields with a sellout performance in September 1933. Many more famous faces treaded the boards over the years including Laurel and Hardy, George Formby and Luciano Pavarotti, who made his UK debut in a production of Madame Butterfly in 1963.
A large scale restoration project was carried out on the Grand Opera House in the 1970’s and it reopened in September 1980. Throughout the 1980’s, the venue continued to prosper with healthy audience numbers and hit shows from London including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”, “Grease” and “Evita”. Local acts such as Phil Coulter, Mary Black and James Galway were very popular and Van Morrison played his first concert in his native city since 1967 there.
To this day, the theatre boasts a wide array of popular shows and additional facilities and even hosted the glittering BAFTA Awards in September 1994. Other services available include venue hire for corporate hospitality, functions and events and even weddings. Extended in 2006, the original façade has been joined by a striking addition to the Belfast skyline, home to a smaller performance space, the Baby Grand Studio.
One of the most enduring traditions at the Grand Opera House is the Christmas pantomime. When the theatre first opened in 1895, the first performance was of “Bluebeard” and pantomime has been an annual feature of the programme from that day to this. This year’s panto, the much loved classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” will take place from 28 November – 10 January 2016. Bursting with all the ingredients of a classic fairytale, including a Wicked Stepmother, a Handsome Prince and a Damsel in Distress, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” stars Northern Ireland’s Queen of Comedy, May McFetteridge in what will be her 26th consecutive pantomime appearance
Other not to be missed upcoming shows include The Bodyguard starring Alexandra Burke which will run from February 3 -13, Motown’s Greatest Hits which runs from January 27 – 28, The Magic of the Beatles which runs from January 15 – 16 and much loved musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which is on from March 16 – 27. See all the listings here.
Have you been to Belfast recently?
You really should take a trip to Belfast– it’s brilliant for culture lovers! I fell for Belfast last year, when I got to visit twice; once for a Belfast weekend break in Spring, and once in Autumn for Belfast’s Culture Night weekend. Do have a look around www.discovernorthernireland.com for more information on short breaks and things to see and do in Northern Ireland. You can check out my report on Belfast and the people of Northern Ireland here.