The Grand Opera House was designed by Frank Matcham in 1894 and built by H&J Martin in 1895 for J.F. Warden. The theatre opened as the Grand Theatre Opera House & Cirque on 16th December 1895 and had a capacity of 2,500 people.
The theatre was renamed the Palace of Varieties in 1904 but reverted back to the Opera House name in 1909.
Following an accidental fire in 1934 the main stage was replaced by H&J Martin under supervision of Stevenson & Son Architects.
Mr George Lodge acquired a controlling interest in the theatre in 1949 and appointed architect Henry Lynch Robinson to remodel the dress circle bar and combine the entrances to the circle and stalls.
Rank Odeon acquired the theatre in 1960 and carried out renovations including a new main entrance and new seating in the auditorium.
The theatre closed in 1972 and was to be demolished and replaced by an office building. However, in June 1974 the building became the first in Northern Ireland to be Grade A listed (HB26/29/001).
The Arts Council acquired the theatre building in 1976 and appointed Architect Robert McKinstry to supervise restoration and improvement works carried out by H&J Martin. The works includes raising the stage roof 20ft and lowering the floor 2ft and the addition of the conservatory style crush bar to the front of the 1895 building. Eight years after closing, the theatre reopened in September 1980.
The building was closed for periods of time due to bomb damage in 1991 and 1993.
The Arts Council transferred management of the Grand Opera House to a not-for-profit registered charity, the Grand Opera House Trust Ltd, in 1995. The Arts Council leased the building to the Trust until 2000 when the deeds were gifted to the Grand Opera House Trust.
The Trustees of Grand Opera House submitted a planning application (Z/2004/1217/F) in May 2004 proposing to extend and alter the Grand Opera House. The application was approved in November 2004.
The £10.5m extension was designed by Aedas Arts Team and was funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (£4m), Arts Council National Lottery Fund (£2m), Grand Opera House Trust (£3.9m) and Ulster Garden Villages (£300,000).
Gilbert Ash commenced construction in March 2005 and the extended Grand Opera House was opened in October 2006. The extended areas comprised a 150 seat studio theatre (The Baby Grand), extended foyers, stage wings and artist accommodation, relocated box office and new hospitality facilities. The Hippodrome restaurant was created on the third floor and Luciano’s bistro was created on the ground floor.
The Grand Opera House Trust introduced a restoration levy on all tickets in 2011 and in February 2015 the Restoration & Development Committee was established to deliver the restoration of the Opera House. The Trust prepared a brief in November 2016 and appointed a project design team comprising Consarc Design Group (Architect), WH Stephens (Project Manager & QS), Albert Fry Associates (Structural Engineer), Sundara Design (Interior Design), Charcoalblue LLP (Theatre Consultant) and Tandem Design (Interpretative Design).
The Grand Opera House Trust submitted a planning application (LA04/2018/1936/F) in July 2018 proposing to refurbish the Grand Opera House main auditorium and circulation areas and remodel the 2006 extension, including a new facade. The application was approved in July 2019.
The £12m restoration of the Grand Opera House commenced in January 2020. Tracey Brothers will undertake the main works and the theatre is scheduled to reopen by December 2020.
The works comprise the full refurbishment of the main auditorium and Shakespeare Room and installation of new lighting and sound equipment. The 1980s conservatory style extension to the front of the 1895 building will be restored as the crush bar and a new permanent exhibition area will be created. The 2006 extension will be fully redesigned, including reconfigured internal areas and new external facade.
Visit www.goh.co.uk for more information.