India's opera house restored to former glory

The Royal Opera House was built in a Baroque style and completed in 1916.
The Royal Opera House was built in a Baroque style and completed in 1916.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MUMBAI • India's only surviving opera house has been restored to its colonial-era glory, reopening to the public more than two decades after it closed in disrepair.

Once the place to be seen for Mumbai's great and good, it was forced to close in the 1990s after years of financial struggles.

But a painstaking seven-year project has transformed the century-old building from a crumbling relic in danger of collapse to an ornate replica of its 1916 glory days, albeit with some important updates.

"One of the biggest challenges was bringing in modern acoustics, sound, lighting and air conditioning, all the requirements of a 21st century theatre, while ensuring it didn't jar with restoring a listed interior," architect Abha Narain Lambah told AFP.

The Royal Opera House was built in a Baroque style with Italian balustrades, marble statues, crystal chandeliers and a gold ceiling. It was inaugurated by Britain's King George V in 1911 and completed in 1916. Only operas were performed on stage for its first two decades - entertainment for the Indian elite and British administrators involved in the running of the empire.

It later screened films, and then Bollywood movies.

But by the 1980s, the venture was struggling financially as the Indian cinema suffered from video piracy.

It closed in 1993, and sat crumbling for years.

It was put on the World Monuments Fund list of endangered buildings.

In 2009, the royal family of Gondal which owns it commissioned Mr Lambah, who specialises in conservation, to lead the mammoth restoration project.

Chandeliers, stained-glass windows, old ceramic British Minton tiles, and a domed ceiling with paintings of famous writers have all been restored.

The 574-seater venue held its first event in 23 years in October, hosting the opening ceremony of the Mumbai film festival.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'India's opera house restored to former glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe