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National Theatre, Munich, Germany
Royal Opera House, Mumbai, India - Famous Opera House
172    Dibyendu Banerjee    13/04/2024

Situated on Charni Road, near the Girgaum Chowpatti beach, along the Queen’s Necklace, adjoining Marine Drive in Mumbai, the Royal Opera House is the only surviving Opera House in India, which dates back the early 20th century, when Bombay was alive with entertainment hubs, but lacking an Opera House. The idea of establishing an entertaining centre for the same purpose was conceived in 1908 by Maurice Bandmann, a famous entertainer from Calcutta, who teamed up with Jahangir Framji Karaka, a Parsi businessman, who headed a firm of coal brokers, to finance and select the design of the proposed building. A baroque design, incorporating a blend of European and Indian detailing, was chosen for the structure and its foundation stone was promptly laid in 1909.

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However, the edifice was inaugurated by King George V in 1911 while the building was still under construction, and although the work was completed in 1912, additions were made to the building till 1915.

royal opera house mumbai

Built of exquisite Italian Marble in a mixed classical design featuring a blend of European and Indian architectural styles, the building of the Royal Opera House was constructed on a leased land close to the Kennedy and Sandhurst bridges. While the ornate façade of the edifice includes elongated pilasters, Italianate balustrades and also a sculpted frieze across the pediment, the dome at its main entrance is segmented into eight different parts as a tribute to poets, dramatists, novelists, intellectuals and people from art and culture.

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The interior of the edifice is also aesthetically decorated with Minton tile flooring, beautiful marble statues, spectacular crystal chandeliers and a gorgeous gilded ceiling. The pair of the crystal chandeliers, called Sans Souci, decorating the interior of the opera house, was donated by the reputed Sassoon family and was shifted from the earlier location of the Sassoon mansion to the foyer of the opera house.

royal opera house mumbai

While the entrance was originally designed with a frontage for carriages to drive in, the original interior of the opera house contains orchestra stalls with cosy cane chairs and 26 rows of boxes with couches located behind the stalls. The proper seating arrangement in the hall provides a clear view of the stage to all the people seated in the stalls, as well as in the Dress Circle.

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The acoustics of the opera house were created by shaping the ceiling in such a manner, which permitted distinct audibility to the audience seated in the gallery to hear every minute detail of the music or song from the stage.

royal opera house mumbai
The Original Pediment

Initially, the opera house was used strictly for staging operas of the British and American companies to the exclusive delight of the city’s elite, comprising a globalised layer of Indians, Europeans, especially the British officials. But with the change of time and taste, it became difficult to maintain and run the opera house, a lavish building, on the income from the opera alone. To meet the need of the day, it was converted into a full-time cinema by Pathé or Pathé Frères, a major film production and distribution company, and re-named Pathé Cinema in 1924 and eventually in 1929, sound equipment was installed and it was re-named Madan Talkies, which continued till 1932, when it reverted back to its original name, Royal Opera House. Finally, with the increasing popularity of “talkie movies” in the early 1930s, the interior of the opera house was remodelled in an Art Deco style and removed the side boxes to accommodate movie screenings and fashion shows in 1935. During that time, apart from screening Hindi movies, it also staged theatre performances by the great actors like Prithviraj Kapoor, Marathi stalwarts like Bal Gandharva and Dinanath Mangeshkar and even hosted the first performance of Lata Mangeshkar, the renowned playback singer.

royal opera house mumbai
royal opera house mumbai
royal opera house mumbai

However, with the progress of time, the single screen cinema halls have taken a downturn since the mid 1970’s due to various social, economical and political reasons, added with random DVD piracy, the advent of cable TV, and the appearance of multiplex-food court combination in the entertainment scene, which also badly affected the opera house. Finally, it was closed as a cinema on 2nd February 1991, although it was last used in 1993 when the Kathiwad fashion show was held in the building. For the following 20 years it was left vacant, abandoned and neglected and gradually became a dilapidated structure, a ghost of its past splendour.

royal opera house mumbai

Much later, in January 2013, after negotiating with the owner of the property, Maharaja Jyotendrasingh , the then Maharaja of Gonda, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee approved the proposal for the restoration of the Royal Opera House prepared by well known conservation architects of Mumbai. The project of restoration was like a carefully crafted work of art, which continued for three years and under the watchful eye of conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, the historic building of the Royal Opera House was perfectly restored and ultimately reopened to the public after 23 years, on Thursday 20th October 2016, with the inauguration of the 18th MAMI international film festival.

National Theatre, Munich, Germany
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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