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"A triumph for Matcham's sound theatre design": the grand opera house and the staging of opera in Belfast, 1945-81.

Belfast's Grand Opera House (GOH) opened in 1895 and played a key role in the cultural life of the city throughout the twentieth century and up to the present day. The theatre provides a venue that can host visiting opera, ballet and drama companies, as well as various local ventures such as the Grand Opera Society of Northern Ireland (GOSNI) and Ulster Operatic's light-opera productions. (1)

Victorian architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who was responsible for some 150 theatres in the United Kingdom, designed the GOH, which today is rightly regarded as one of his finest theatres (Walker x. See Fig. 1). Just two of Matcham's theatres were built in Ireland however: the GOH in Belfast and Dublin's Theatre Royal, which closed its doors in 1934 and was demolished soon afterwards (Ryan 36). In fact, several of Matcham's theatres no longer stand; as entertainment trends swayed toward the cinema screen during the 1950s and 1960s these ornate buildings no longer seemed to serve much of a purpose as far as the general public were concerned. The GOH survived only because it was taken over by Rank-Odeon in 1960 and converted into a cinema, which it remained until the building was closed in 1972.

This article is concerned with the staging of grand opera at this theatre--and other venues in Belfast--between 1945 and 1981, examining the threats posed to the GOH as a live venue by the private ownership of the Rank-Odeon cinema chain and the impact of the Troubles on Belfast's city centre. With the GOH remaining closed during the 1970s, the province's locally based opera company--the Northern Ireland Opera Trust (NIOT)--continued to present its annual season, in a number of different venues such as the Grove Theatre in North Belfast and the ABC Cinema in the centre of the city. The difficulty in staging opera at this time will be highlighted however, as the on-going violence caused widespread disruption, and it was not until the GOH was renovated and reopened in 1980 that Belfast maintained a permanent theatre suitable for the staging of opera once again.

Opera in Belfast: 1945-60

For the majority of the twentieth century, the GOH was used as a venue housing local theatre productions, opera and the seasonal Christmas pantomime, as well as several distinguished touring companies. Frank Benson's Shakespearean company were visitors annually from when the theatre first opened until 1931, and there were also visits from Dublin's Abbey Theatre (Gallagher 18-19). During the 1920s and 1930s the Carl Rosa Opera Company was a regular visitor, as was the D'Oyly Carte Company, an indication that the GOH was capable of staging large productions, in fact more so than any other theatre in Belfast.

Restrictions on travel between Britain and Ireland during the Second World War meant that no British opera companies were able to cross the Irish Sea and perform in Belfast during this period. With the end of hostilities in May 1945 however, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts in Northern Ireland (CEMA NI) (2) immediately sought to redress this and arranged for the Sadler's Wells Opera Company to put on a three-week run in the GOH in August of that year (for a list opera performances in Belfast throughout the period, see Appendix 1). This was the Sadler's Wells first visit to Ireland, and the success of the venture can be measured by its popularity with audiences: CEMA NI recorded that the seventeen evening performances and six matinees were given "to crowded and enthusiastic audiences in the GOH" (CEMA-AR-45-46 9), while one newspaper review noted the "large audiences, and the enthusiasm still more keen" (Belfast Telegraph 27 July 1945). Adjacent to the GOH stood the Royal Hippodrome Theatre, built in 1907 as a variety theatre though later converted into a large cinema. This venue was also suitable for staging opera; in 1946 the Dublin Grand Opera Society put on a season here, as did the Imperial Opera Company the following year. The Sadler's Wells Company returned to the GOH in 1947, and once more the appetite Belfast audiences had for this form of entertainment was demonstrated by capacity audiences (Belfast Telegraph 4 August 1947). The Belfast Telegraph's music critic also noted the enthusiasm demonstrated by the audience "who for once withheld applause until till the actual curtain in Act One" at a performance of Giacomo Puccini's La boheme, an indication of this particular opera's popularity (Belfast Telegraph 29 July 1947). The tradition of visiting companies to Belfast continued throughout the 1950s when there were four visits by the Carl Rosa Company, and in 1958 GOSNI was established, putting on a season of Italian opera in the GOH annually. (3) GOSNI's formation ensured that Belfast audiences were guaranteed a season of grand opera each spring, instead of having to rely on less than regular visits from touring companies.

1960s: Rank-Odeon ownership

Having hosted several touring companies throughout the first part of the twentieth century, the GOH had firmly established itself as the principal venue for opera in Belfast, though its existence as a theatre came under threat in 1960 when the Rank-Odeon cinema chain purchased both the GOH and the adjoining Royal Hippodrome. Initially, local newspapers reported that the new owners wanted to convert the GOH into an American-style bowling alley, which would have meant the end of its days as a theatre (Belfast Telegraph 26 October 1960). In response to these rumours, a group letter soon appeared in the local press calling for the GOH to be protected from commercial interests and turned into a public trust. Bearing the signature of several leading figures in Northern Ireland's cultural life at the time, (4) the letter noted that:

We feel sure that we speak on behalf of numerous theatre lovers in Northern Ireland in expressing our anxiety over conflicting news about the future of the Grand Opera House, Belfast, as a home for the large-scale live theatre. Even if reports about the ultimate fate of the building as a bowling alley are premature or untrue, the mere fact that such a possibility can be entertained shows the uncertainty of the commercial fate of this charming building, with its impressive history and valuable potential--and by the same token of the vital link it presents between Northern Ireland and the best that English theatre, ballet and opera can offer us.

Perhaps there is a case for this theatre to become a public trust. In any event we earnestly hope that those authorities in Northern Ireland whose business it is to foster the arts or to have due regard to the prestige of Belfast are taking, or will take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the Opera House is not lightly lost to the cultural, social and civic life of Ulster, but is given an assured future as a permanent institution, not at the mercy of every commercial wind that blows. They will certainly have the goodwill of thousands like us. (Belfast Newsletter 28 October 1960)

The concerns expressed here were well grounded, particularly as no other theatres in the city were equipped to stage any sort of large production at this time. Had Rank-Odeon proceeded with the plans for a bowling alley in all likelihood this would have signalled the end for GOSNI just two years after it was established. However, it soon transpired that the sloping floor in the GOH made the theatre unsuitable for a bowling alley and these plans were abandoned, though the conversion into a cinema did take place.

Having completed the takeover of both premises in November 1960, Mr R.V.C. Eveleigh, managing director of Odeon Northern Ireland, was keen to stress that "entertainment" would remain the primary function. In response to this criticism in the local press, he stated, somewhat disingenuously as matters turned out, that:

In the entertainment world, it is never possible to forecast accurately future developments, but in order to dispel the recent groundless rumours, I wish to state categorically that there are no plans or intentions to convert either of these theatres to a bowling alley or to use either for purposes other than entertainment. (Belfast Newsletter 19 November 1960)

Rank-Odeon's primary intention for the GOH and the Royal Hippodrome was to turn them into a cinema complex, though an agreement between Eveleigh and the then Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Robert Kinahin, was made whereby the GOH would still be utilised for twelve weeks of live shows throughout the year (PRONI AC/12/3: Montgomery to Eveleigh, 6 April 1966). This promise was undertaken with some degree of reluctance however, with Eveleigh stating in a letter to Peter Montgomery (President of CEMA NI) that "Whilst from a personal point of view I have every sympathy with and interest in the live theatre, from a commercial point of view it is a dead duck" (ibid.). Compared to the low costs of screening film, live shows required a period of closure to accommodate rehearsals and there were also extra costs in recruiting stage staff; thus there was little value in maintaining the GOH as a theatre for Rank-Odeon. The live performances during this period included the GOSNI season each spring, the annual Christmas pantomime, light-opera productions put on by Ulster Operatic as well as visits from touring companies (including Sadler's Wells in 1964). For these organisations Rank-Odeon's ownership of the GOH was from a practical point of view unsatisfactory. The semi-transformation ensured that theatrical requirements were superseded by commercial needs, while Matcham's interior design was gradually diminished and, increasingly, poorly maintained (Gallagher 94). As the principal function of the theatre was as a cinema, this also meant that the timetabling of live productions was also at the mercy of the cinema chain. Therefore, throughout the 1960s, the use of the GOH as a live venue was far from ideal for either the cinema chain or the companies putting on the productions.

While Eveleigh bemoaned the obligation to cater for local companies, the GOH was not an entirely successful cinema either. Its shape ensured that it was ill suited for this purpose; the projector was situated high up at the back of the 'gods', greatly distorting the image on screen, while those watching from the boxes at the side had a poor view (McKinstry 100). Despite these issues, Rank-Odeon persevered with the GOH as a cinema venue throughout the 1960s, though with the onset of the Troubles in 1969 Belfast's nightlife was greatly affected. The escalating violence meant that the city-centre was no longer safe, and people either stayed at home or socialised in their own neighbourhoods. Although the GOH itself was never bombed, Great Victoria Street--where the theatre was situated--suffered a number of bombings throughout the Troubles, and the GOH was often affected by blasts at the nearby Europa Hotel, infamous for being the most bombed hotel in Europe (Bardon 813).

1970s: Dereliction

By 1972, the impact of the Troubles combined with the unsuitability of the GOH as a cinema prompted Rank-Odeon to cut their losses and close the venue. The theatre was sold to property developers, and it was not until 1980 that the GOH would again open its doors to the public (Gallagher 92). For the remainder of the 1970s Matcham's theatre lay derelict in Belfast's city centre and as it fell into a state of disrepair there was the serious prospect of demolition as the site became more attractive as a commercial prospect than a cultural one. As part of the urban regeneration of the post-war period, several Victorian and Edwardian buildings in Belfast were demolished during the 1950s and 1960s. This trend was exacerbated during the Troubles since buildings suffering damage from bomb blasts were often cheaper to replace than restore, particularly as there was always the danger of subsequent bomb damage (as was the case with the GOH). Fortunately, by the 1970s Belfast's citizens had become more conscious of the city's architectural heritage, and in 1974 the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) was established by the Belfast solicitor Charles Brett with the aim of salvaging those buildings in danger of being demolished (UAHS-AR-74-75). Legislation giving protection to Historic buildings in Britain was first introduced in 1944 under the Town and Country Planning Act, though this did not extend to Northern Ireland. The First Annual Report for the UAHS illustrated the need for similar regulation in Northern Ireland:

   As elsewhere in the United Kingdom appreciation grew of the
   country's architectural heritage and of the need to protect and
   enhance that heritage, so concern grew in Northern Ireland that its
   heritage stood unprotected and subject to ravage by unsympathetic
   owners ... The passing of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order
   1972 setting up Northern Ireland's own Historic Buildings Council
   and legislating for the listing of buildings and the designating of
   Conservation Areas of special architectural or historic interest
   was warmly welcomed and those who were particularly concerned about
   their protection and enhancement eagerly awaited the action which
   would follow.

The society campaigned heavily for notable buildings to be salvaged and restored, and in 1974 the GOH was among the first spate of buildings to be listed, with the UAHS drawing attention to the "intrinsic merit of the interior of the building and also the importance of preserving an amenity of this nature for the benefit of the community in Northern Ireland" [UAHS 29 March 74]. The future of the GOH as a building was secured therefore, though it remained derelict until 1976 when the premises were acquired by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) who oversaw an extensive restoration and were intent on using the venue primarily as a theatre (ACNI-AR-75-76, 11).

Northern Ireland Opera Trust Productions

As the GOH remained closed throughout the 1970s NIOT (as GOSNI had been renamed in 1970) maintained a nomadic existence, performing in several different venues throughout the province. After the visit of Sadler's Wells in 1964, it was not until 1981, when Scottish Opera performed in the newly refurbished GOH, that a touring company came to Northern Ireland, so during this time performance of grand opera was restricted to NIOT productions. These productions were occasionally affected by the continuing violence, though NIOT continued to present its annual season despite the difficult circumstances and problems finding suitable venues.

With the closure of the GOH, for its 1972 season NIOT moved its productions to the Grove Theatre, situated in North Belfast. This venue had previously been the Troxy Cinema but had been acquired by ACNI in the mid-1960s owing to a 10,000 [pounds sterling] grant from the Northern Ireland Government, after which it was renamed the Grove Theatre (NI Parliamentary Debates 1 February 1966, 513). Initially, these premises were used mainly for dramatic productions sponsored by ACNI, though when the GOH closed its doors in 1972 the Grove Theatre was used for opera as well. It was not intended to be a permanent theatre however, the Council acknowledging that "in spite of the generous co-operation and much valued initiative of its owners, it is not really suitable for initiating a continuous and progressive artistic policy" (ACNI-AR-66-67, 4). Although its capacity of approximately 1,000 was similar to the GOH, the Grove Theatre was not, given its location, an ideal venue. North Belfast--particularly the area between the Shore Road and Antrim Road where the theatre was situated--was where much sectarian violence took place, discouraging many from travelling to this part of the city.

In 1973 NIOT took the decision to move its season back into the centre of Belfast and established the ABC Cinema in Great Victoria Street as a home for the next five years. Despite occasional disruption caused by bomb scares and difficulties in travelling to the centre of the city, this venue was largely adequate for the Trust's purposes. As has been mentioned previously, attacks on buildings in Belfast were not uncommon during these years of civil strife and in 1977 the ABC Cinema was destroyed in a fire (Belfast Telegraph 23 September 1977). Meanwhile, the Grove Theatre suffered bomb damage in the late 1970s and was closed down, effectively meaning that every theatre suitable for the staging of opera in Belfast was rendered inoperative. At short notice, in 1978 NIOT's scheduled season of Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata and Gioachino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia was replaced by a series of Gala concerts and concert performances of La traviata in the Guildhall, Derry, the Great Hall in the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and the Whitla Hall at Queen's University. Leo Forte, Chairman of NIOT noted that "every possible alternative was explored in trying to find a suitable alternative venue", though each of these posed logistical issues which meant that a series of concert performances was the most pragmatic solution (NIOT 1978). Ultimately, the closure of the GOH, Grove Theatre and the ABC Cinema meant that no theatre in Belfast was suitable for staging opera at this time, and in many ways NIOT deserve a great deal of credit for persevering throughout this difficult period. Against a background of civil unrest, there were perhaps more difficulties posed when it came to staging opera than any other art form, and this accorded the Trust a great deal of sympathy. ACNI made the point that:

The achievements of those organisations that provide for the recreational and cultural life of the Province stand out as beacons of hope ... It is a remarkable tribute to the artists, and especially to the administrators that they are unfailingly resourceful. (ACNI-AR-76-77, 10)

GOH Restoration and re-opening

Although NIOT faced several difficulties throughout the 1970s, by the end of the decade solace could be taken from the fact that the issue of a permanent home for opera was on its way to being resolved. Having been taken into the hands of ACNI in 1976, an extensive renovation project for the GOH was undertaken with the building due to reopen in 1980. The Department of Education funded the project, at a cost of nearly 3 [pounds sterling] million, which was justified by the assertion that building a new theatre would have been much more expensive (ACNI-AR-79-80 17). The renovation took four years to complete, which was longer than it had taken Matcham to build the theatre, though this was primarily because each stage of the rehabilitation could only be undertaken once money was made available (Irish Times 15 March 1978). The most striking feature of Matcham's theatre--the auditorium--was largely intact, though in very poor condition following years of neglect. In keeping with the tastes of his Victorian audiences, Matcham decorated the theatre with Indian and Moorish motifs. The ceiling depicts Indian-costumed figures representing dancing and music, while the columns carry a Moorish theme. Perhaps the most striking features of the interior are the plaster elephants, which entirely escaped damage during the years of neglect (Irish Times 15 March 1978). Robert McKinstry--the architect commissioned to oversee the restoration--completely reinstated the auditorium's former splendour (see Fig. 2), while the backstage facilities were brought up to date with modern technical specifications with an enlarged orchestra pit, new fly tower equipped with fifty scenery flying bars and adequate stage lighting. (For a detailed account of the improvements made to the theatre see McKinstry 104-08.) The renovation was largely successful in restoring Matcham's design, while modernising the GOH to bring it up-to-date for the needs of a twentieth-century theatre.

When the GOH was re-opened in 1980, the Gala concert that marked the occasion was a joyous event which attracted a great deal of newspaper coverage and was attended by many involved in Northern Ireland's cultural scene. The Irish Times described the four-year restoration project as:

A triumph for Matcham's sound theatre design, an endorsement for the listing for buildings of architectural merit, a vote of confidence for the skills of local craftsmen and an act of faith in the future of performing arts in Belfast. (Irish Times 15 September 1980)

The restored theatre was given an award by the United Kingdom's Civic Trust, a scheme which acknowledged excellence in architecture and the restoration of old property (Belfast Telegraph 26 November 1982), and since its reopening in 1980 has continued its tradition of housing locally produced opera, as well as providing a suitable venue for visiting companies.

As this article has illustrated, there were few alternative venues capable of staging opera productions in Northern Ireland in the post-war period, making the GOH an essential part of cultural life in the Province. Despite the issues caused by private ownership, threats of demolition and the various problems caused by Northern Ireland's troubled past, the GOH has endured, much to the benefit of arts organisations in Belfast and Northern Ireland today. As Appendix 1 illustrates, from 1945 to 1981 there was an almost continuous thread of opera stagings in Belfast, and although venues other than the GOH were utilised, it is fair to say that the accommodation of visiting companies and local productions could not have been maintained regularly throughout the period had it not been for Matcham's theatre. Opera in Belfast continues to be synonymous with the GOH today with the recently formed company NI Opera using the theatre as its home, and there is every indication that this young company will continue the tradition of opera at the GOH and in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future.

Appendix 1: Selected performances of
Opera in Belfast, 1945-81 *

       Company         Repertoire

1945   Sadler's        Giacomo Puccini--Madama Butterfly
       Wells           Bedfich Smetana--The Bartered Bride
                       Puccini--La boheme
                       Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart--Cost fan tutte
1946   Dublin Grand    Giuseppe Verdi--La traviata
       Opera Society   Verdi--Rigoletto
                       Verdi--Il trovatore
                       Charles Gounod--Faust
1947   Imperial        Rigoletto
       Opera Company   Gioachino Rossini--Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Madama Butterfly Mozart--Le nozze di Figaro
                       La boheme
1947   Sadler's        La boheme
       Wells           Le nozze di Figaro
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Pietro Mascagni--Cavalleria Rusticana
                       Ruggero Leoncavallo--I Pagliacci
1947   Dublin Grand    Georges Bizet--Carmen
       Opera           Madama Butterfly
       Society         La traviata
1951   Carl Rosa       Carmen La boheme
                       Cavalleria Rusticana
                       I Pagliacci
                       La traviata
                       Il trovatore
                       Madama Butterfly
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Richard Wagner--Der fliegende Hollander
                       George Lloyd--John Socman
1953   Carl Rosa       Carmen
                       Jacques Offenbach--Les contes d'Hoffmann
                       La boheme
                       Madama Butterfly
                       Il trovatore
                       La traviata
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Cavalleria Rusticana
                       I Pagliacci
1955   Carl Rosa       Mozart--Don Giovanni
                       La boheme
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Il trovatore
                       Les contes d'Hoffmann
                       Cavalleria Rusticana
                       I Pagliacci
1956   Carl Rosa       Puccini--Manon Lescaut
                       Cavalleria Rusticana
                       I Pagliacci
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Les contes d'Hoffmann
                       La boheme
                       Il trovatore
                       Don Giovanni
1958   GOSNI           Rigoletto
1959   GOSNI           Il trovatore
                       Il barbiere di Siviglia
1960   GOSNI           La traviata
                       Gaetano Donizetti--Lucia di Lammermoor
1961   GOSNI           Verdi--Aida
1962   GOSNI           Verdi--Nabucco
                       La boheme
1963   GOSNI           Verdi--Un ballo in maschera
                       Madama Butterfly
1964   Sadler's        Rigoletto
       Wells           Camille Saint-Saens--Samson et Delilah
                       Mozart--Cost fan tutte
                       Benjamin Britten--Peter Grimes
                       Offenbach--La vie Parisienne

1964   GOSNI           La traviata
                       Donizetti--Don Pasquale
1965   GOSNI           La traviata
                       Donizetti--L'Elisir d'Amore
1966   GOSNI           Il barbiere di Siviglia
                       Lucia di Lammermoor
1967   GOSNI           Nabucco
                       Vincenzo Bellini--I Puritani
1968   GOSNI           Ludwig van Beethoven--Fidelio
                       Christoph Willibald Gluck--Orfeo et Euridice
                       Mozart--Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail
1970   NIOT            Un ballo in maschera
                       Cavalleria Rusticana
                       I Pagliacci
1971   NIOT            Carmen
1972   NIOT            Verdi--Macbeth
                       L'Elisir d'Amore
1973   NIOT            Nabucco
                       The Bartered Bride
1974   NIOT            Bellini--Norma La traviata
1975   NIOT            Madama Butterfly
                       Don Pasquale
1976   NIOT            La boheme
                       Lucia di Lammermoor
1977   NIOT            Faust
1978   NIOT            Gala concert series
                       La traviata
1979   NIOT            Concert performances:
                       Der fliegende Hollander
1980   NIOT            Tosca
                       Un ballo in maschera
1981   NIOT            Cost fan tutte
1981   Scottish        Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky--Eugene Onegin
       Opera           La traviata


1945   Grand Opera House
1946   Royal Hippodrome
1947   Royal Hippodrome
1947   GOH
1947   Royal Hippodrome
1951   GOH
1953   GOH
1955   GOH
1956   GOH
1958   GOH
1959   GOH
1960   Royal Hippodrome
1961   GOH
1962   GOH
1963   GOH
1964   GOH
1964   GOH
1965   GOH
1966   GOH
1967   GOH
1968   GOH
1970   GOH
1971   GOH
1972   Grove Theatre
1973   ABC Cinema
1974   ABC Cinema
1975   ABC Cinema
1976   ABC Cinema
1977   ABC Cinema
1978   Various venues
       throughout NI
1979   Whitla Hall, Queen's
1980   GOH
1981   GOH
1981   GOH

* Visits to Belfast were made during this time
by groups who performed chamber opera, such as the
Intimate Opera Company and the Puppet Opera Group,
but as the focus of this article is on the
Grand Opera House I have only included 'large-scale'
opera that would require an orchestra and
considerable staging. The amateur productions put
on by the Studio Opera Group have also been
omitted, as this local company mostly performed
in smaller theatres or town halls. I intend to include
a comprehensive list of opera performances in my
forthcoming PhD thesis, Queen's University
Belfast (working title: "Orchestral Provision in
Northern Ireland in the post-war period").

Works Cited

Bardon, Jonathan. A History of Ulster. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1992.

Gallagher, Lyn. The Grand Opera House, Belfast. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1995.

Ryan, Philip. The Lost Theatres of Dublin. Wiltshire: The Badger Press, 1998.

McKinstry, Robert. "The Grand Opera House Belfast: Restoring a Matcham Theatre for Today's Audience and Actors" Walker 95-119.

Walker, Brian, ed. Frank Matcham: Theatre Architect. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1980.

[ACNI-AR-66-67] Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI). Annual Report 1966-67.

[ACNI-AR-75-76] Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Annual Report 1975-76.

[ACNI-AR-76-77] Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Annual Report 1976-77.

[ACNI-AR-79-80] Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Annual Report 1979-80.

[CEMA-AR-45-46] Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts in Northern Ireland (CEMA NI). Annual Report 1945-46.

[NI Parliamentary Debates 1 February 1966] Government of Northern Ireland Parliamentary Debates. Vol. 62, 1 February 1966.

[PRONI AC/12/3: Montgomery to Eveleigh 6 April 1966] Correspondence between ACNI President Peter Montgomery and R.V.C. Eveleigh, 6 April 1966 [Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI): AC/12/3].

[NIOT 1978] Northern Ireland Opera Trust. 1978 International Concert Season Programme.

[UAHS-AR-74-75] Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. First Annual Report 1974-75.

[UAHS 29 March 74] Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. Minutes of Meeting held 29 March 1974.


(1) For a comprehensive history of Belfast's Grand Opera House, see Gallagher and Walker.

(2) CEMA NI was established in 1943, receiving government subsidy for the promotion of the arts in Northern Ireland. In 1962 it was renamed the "Arts Council of Northern Ireland" (ACNI), in line with its UK counterpart.

(3) GOSNI received subsidy from CEMA and specialised in Italian Grand Opera, putting on a season each spring. In 1970 the society was renamed the "Northern Ireland Opera Trust", which continued to present annual seasons of opera until 1984, when the newly formed "Opera Northern Ireland" became the main provider of opera in the province.

(4) Signatories were Janet McNeill, Havelock Nelson (Music staff at BBC Northern Ireland), O.W. Peacock (Irish Councillor, National Operatic and Dramatic Association), M. Grant McCormack (Chairman, Belfast Centre of Irish Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors and Novelists), Jeanne Cooper Foster, Richard Hayward (President, Young Ulster Society), John Lewis Crosby (Co-Founder of GOSNI), Jack Loudan (prominent Irish writer), William Conor (Irish artist) and Alfred Arnold.

Ciaran Kennedy is a final year PhD student at Queen's University Belfast, where he previously completed an MA in Music. His thesis explores the provision of classical music in Northern Ireland 1945-81, with particular emphasis on opera and orchestral music.
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Date:Oct 1, 2013
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