Central Belfast venues: The Grand Opera House

A Belfast home for opera, concerts and a variety of shows

When the Grand Opera House opened its doors on 23 December 1895, it was an important date for the city of Belfast, then in its Victorian heyday. From the outset, the Theatre was a success. Crowds flocked to a great variety of entertainments including opera, drama, pantomime and the latest London comedy or musical.

By the 1920s and 1930s, variety programmes dominated the programme presented by the Grand Opera House. Will Fyffe and Harry Lauder appeared, and when Gracie Fields arrived, her reception was tumultuous.

The Grand Opera House, Great Victoria StreetDuring the Second World War, the Grand Opera House became a repertory theatre, day in, day out, with matinees and special Christmas and New Year performances, through blitzes, rations and restrictions. When peace came, the Grand Opera House was at the centre of the celebrations, giving Gala Performances by the Savoy Players for General Eisenhower, and Field Marshalls Alanbrooke and Montgomery.

By the 1950s, however, the world of entertainment was changing. The advent of television made a major impact, and although the Grand Opera House continued to present live shows, its acquisition by the Rank Organisation led to its increasing role as a cinema.

By the 1960s it was in decline, its Victorian opulence considered old-fashioned. But the 1970s saw a renewed interest in Victorian buildings and following a campaign by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, statutory listing was introduced.

In the nick of time, the Grand Opera House was listed and its survival as a building assured. Shortly afterwards, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland funded the restoration of the Theatre; as an 'act of faith' in troubled times.

Much loved by generations of people, the Grand Opera House has given a stage to many of the great names in theatre and music hall. An exhaustive list of famous men and women from the world of entertainment have appeared on the stage, names like James Johnston, Heather Harper, Van Morrison and Kenneth Branagh, and in 1963 it was on the stage of the Grand Opera House that Luciano Pavarotti made his UK debut as Lieutenant Pinkerton in a production of Madame Butterfly.