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The centre of Belfast's entertainment world since before any of us were born


Oriental Building Style
Varied Performances
The Baby Grand
Frank Matcham was a prolific theatre architect. He was responsible for almost every notable auditorium built around the turn of the 20th century, including the London Palladium and the Blackpool Grand. His work was known for its flamboyance; the designs borrowed shamelessly from every style imaginable, including classic Tudor architecture and official military insignia.

Belfast Grand Opera House
Photo Agadent
The exterior of the Grand Opera House, meanwhile, is notable for its strong oriental theme. This was a relatively popular style at the time. For example, it was also used by Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where many American films host their premires. Belfast's design, however, preceded the Los Angeles one by several decades. It opened on the 23rd of December, 1895.

The building has a strong Oriental Theme
Photo Ardfern
Despite the name, the Opera House doesn't just host operas. It has actually had several different uses over the years. For a time in the early 20th century it hosted so many variety shows that it was temporarily renamed "The Palace of Varieties". Even after the title was switched back, that style of performance, which mixed up all sorts of singers and dancers, remained popular.

Inside the Grand Opera House.
Photo M.A.W.1

All kinds of events are hosted, not just opera.
Photo Paul Bowman
Later, during the Second World War, the theatre defied bombs and food shortages by continuing to bring morale-boosting shows to the Belfast public. A few years later it was the venue for some raucous victory celebrations. The guests of honour were military generals like Montgomery and Eisenhower. The latter, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, would later become President of the United States.
Throughout its existence, hundreds of performers have graced this famous stage. There were cheery musicals and famous stand-up comedians. Ballet and theatre companies would arrive from Broadway, in London, performing everything from Shakespearian classics to modern originals. For a few years the place spent time as a cinema. More recently, there have been educational shows for school visits. Of course, the opera performances suggested in the building's name are still happening.
Years of heavy use left the theatre in less-than-perfect condition. Restoration work over the last few decades brought the place back to life, with modern facilities and extensions. The most notable addition was another live space called "The Baby Grand". This smaller venue hosts intimate events with a less mainstream twist, like murder mystery nights and burlesque lessons.

Did You Know?

Also within the building are Luciano's Cafe and the Hippodrome Restaurant. Their pre-show meals turn a simple theatre ticket into an entire evening's entertainment.
The Opera House's transformation became a catalyst for further redevelopments in Belfast's city centre, which has been changing almost beyond recognition in recent years. The theatre's slogan is "laughter, tears and applause since 1895", a phrase that could apply both to the performances and the building's journey through time.
Visitor Information
Grand Opera House hosts a regular programme of entertainment. Grand Opera House, Great Victoria Street, Belfast, BT2 7HR. Tel: 028 9024 1919 (box office)

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