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20th September 2018

Grand Opera House Restoration Project

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In 1895 the most renowned theatre architect of the Victorian period, Frank Matcham, bestowed on Belfast one of his most imaginative and opulent creations. The Grand Opera House, with its magnificent architectural and decorative scheme, has survived for 123 years – while most of its contemporaries from that extraordinary era of theatre-building have long gone.

In January 2020 the Grand Opera House Trust will begin a once-in-a-generation restoration project which will return this matchless heritage asset to its former glory, enhance the public areas of the theatre and share the rich and colourful history of the Grand Opera House through a new and vibrant exhibition. It is nearly forty years since the auditorium was last restored when the Grand Opera House, Northern Ireland’s last surviving Victorian Theatre, was saved from demolition in the late 1970s.

Work is already taking place behind the scenes to better understand the auditorium’s decorative and functioning order and how it has changed through more than a century of operation so as to better inform the restoration of this unique heritage asset. One of the surveys undertaken involved painstakingly peeling back layer upon layer of paint, varnish and gilding from 21 locations around the auditorium and analysing them using a high-powered microscope to glimpse the decorative schemes of the past.

Restoration work at the Grand Opera House

The striking crimson scheme of the past half century was preceded by a range of colour schemes dependent on the fashion of the day. There is evidence that some parts of the auditorium had been painted in a warm, yellowish off-white colour, followed by a second colour scheme of a deep-yellow-orange colour, and a third scheme that included a pale stone colour. Structural surveys have uncovered the original seating layout when the auditorium held 2,500 people- today it seats just over 1,000. However there is still no trace of the ghost that has been on the stage through the decades! 

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