One of the intriguing factors of any building structure is its lifespan and related stories. There is a timeline from the birth of a building till it gets tucked away into history. There are glorious years of fame and triumph. But also, there are years when these famous structures were neglected and faded.
The Royal Opera House is the only surviving Opera House in India. It is an excellent example of a beautiful structure neglected over the years. But not anymore, and thanks to the restoration process that brought back the building again to life.
A Brief History
Opera houses are buildings often used for performing arts by giving a relatively elevated experience to the audience. The Royal Opera House is the pride of Mumbai’s culture. It was constructed when the city witnessed its glorious cultural days in the 1900s. Maurice Bandmann, a famous entertainer from Calcutta, and Jehangir Framji Karaka, head of a firm of coal brokers, were the ones to find this spectacular building. The structure was first inaugurated in 1911 by King George V. Careful measures were taken to showcase a mix of European and Indian styles in the design, along with Baroque elements.
Over the years, this opera house was the home to exclusively only opera. The primary audience at the time was a selective group of Indians, British officials, and Europeans from time to time. With the increase in the popularity of cinema and the difficulty of running the Royal Opera House with only opera performances, it also started to include movie screenings and fashion shows. No more than a few years later, in 1980, the building was closed for good. It was no longer profitable, and it became harder to maintain the structure with time.
But this once-acclaimed building came back to life in the 21st century, all thanks to Shri Jyotendrasinhji, who commissioned the restoration of the structure in 2010, and under the leadership of Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect.
Structure and Design Features
The building is the essence of European and Indian design blended with detailed design elements. The structure was built using Italian marble with an entrance to accommodate a carriage to drive in. Even though the initial works were completed by 1912, additions and design elements were added and altered until 1916. The main entrance of the building consists of a dome segmented into eight parts. It is a symbol to honor poets, dramatists, and people from art and culture.
The Royal Opera House can accommodate up to 575 people over three levels. These levels include the Royal Stall, Dress Circle, and Grand Balcony. The ticket lobby and common areas, along with the foyer, have a coaxial ceiling speaker system and high-quality monitor speakers for the green room and backstage. There is a proposed Jazz bar and restaurant in the parking lot and a proposed cafe on the premises. Therefore, it is clear from these design features that an attempt to bring the olden days along with modern technology has cooperated well.
It is evident that even back in the day, the building had a luxurious interior design. Crystal chandeliers gifted by the Sassoon mansion and marble sculptures filled the interiors. The domes were painted with murals and decorated with ornate plasterwork with Minton tiles on the floors. The artists had access to excellent facilities like hot and cold showers in the dressing rooms.
Restoration Process and Timeline
The Opera House was declared a Grade II A heritage building as per the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay 1995 and upgraded to Grade I heritage building in 2016 (Google Arts & Culture, n.d.). As a result, the Royal Opera House could only be restored and not redeveloped. In 2010, the conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah was commissioned to restore the structure by the current owner Maharaja Shri Jyotendrasinhji of Gondal.
But the interesting fact is that this building had also undergone restorations in the past. The first time was in 1936 after Ideal Pictures Ltd used it for theater purposes. They installed new flooring, colored cement, and window and door frames. Later, renovations happened again to accommodate modern innovative techniques to the designs. This resulted in the installment of many extractors in the roof and powerful inhalers to draw natural air.
Current Changes After Restoration
For over 20 years, the Opera House was neglected without any maintenance or development. This further resulted in the deterioration of the building in later years. The main priority was on the roof repairs and waterproofing. This was followed by taking care of the basement and the balconies facing outwards. The restoration team led their first years by focusing solely on restoring the structural stability of the building. Structural engineer Satish Dhupelia led the structural conservation of the Royal Opera House. The further plan was to restore the interiors with historical importance and then plan the eventual reopening of the building.
The restoration process consisted of painting conservators, acoustic consultants, sound and theater specialists, HVAC engineers, civil contractors, electrical and public health engineers, and conservation architects (NDTV.com, n.d.). The interior of the building was restored to its Baroque design roots. This, along with even tiny details like plasters, columns, balconies, and other decorative elements, was delicately changed to its authentic self. The exterior of the building has a pediment that is adorned with figures with musical instruments to showcase the symbol of performing arts. The entrance lobby has exquisite murals, motifs, and paintings after restoration.
The restoration was completed in October 2016, nearly 100 years after constructing this pride of Mumbai city. Since the reopening of this historically significant structure, the theater has regained its once popularity and name. The Royal Opera House is an inclusive cultural hub for the artistic and cultural world. It includes performing arts, design, art, and literature. They have also made it a mission to promote and support artists from these fields. The building won the Award of Merit in the 2017 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. One can only imagine the elegant and glittery days of joy, performance, and celebration of the art world witnessed by this building in the olden days.
1.Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). India’s Only Surviving Opera House. [online] Available at: https://artsandculture.google.com/story/india-s-only-surviving-opera-house-the-royal-opera-house-mumbai/MwWBPMjCigNyIQ?hl=en [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].
- NDTV.com. (n.d.). Blog: How We Restored Mumbai’s 100-Year-Old Opera House. [online] Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/blog/how-we-restored-mumbais-100-year-old-opera-house-1475238 [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].
- Wikipedia. (2021). Royal Opera House (Mumbai). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Opera_House_(Mumbai)#Revival_in_21st_century [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022]