Cork Opera House to reopen following major renovations

 

Cork Opera House is in profit - not much, but profit nevertheless. For as long as most people can remember, such a boast could not have been made at the annual general meeting of the city's flagship theatre. Last week, however, the meeting heard that, before depreciation, a profit of £137,715 had been recorded.

In itself the figure is insignificant; in strictly commercial terms it would not have boardroom members in the private sector jumping with glee. For the Opera House, however, it marks a milestone along what has been a difficult path.

In the 1980s and through the early 1990s, the theatre consistently showed a loss and had to battle on with the help of the local authorities in Cork as well as the Arts Council. At times, there were dark murmurings and even whispers aloud that it might not survive. But despite troubled times, on October 14th, the Opera House will celebrate its reincarnation with a gala opening night.

For some months, the theatre has been closed for major renovations which will have cost £6 million when members of the public gather once again inside its doors - this time in an extended and refurbished foyer.

As of now, passers-by in Emmet Place, itself undergoing huge changes for the better, can only guess as to what's going on behind the protective screens shielding the building as the work continues.

When all is revealed, patrons can expect to find the front-of-house area has been extended as far as the old Emmet Place footpath and the enlarged foyer includes a cafe and shop. The old facade will not be recognisable. Instead, the cantilevered design of the new one, in glass and steel, will overhang the Emmet Place Plaza, now nearing completion, and the expectation is that the two will merge in a synchronous way, drawing the eye to the fusion of building and streetscape.

The theatre, which had seating for 1,007 people, will in future be able to accommodate 1,600 for stand-up concerts. There will be wheelchair access to all parts of the building. On the first floor, the bar, overlooking the plaza, will be quadrupled in size as will the bar on the second floor which will also double as a concert facility and a jazz club on certain evenings. Inside the theatre proper, there will be four boxes instead of two and the orchestra pit will be extended. Out of the public gaze, the Opera House boardroom and office space with river views now befits a modern theatre with a new purpose and self-belief.

Once the doors have opened for business again, the Opera House will look towards the final phase of the redevelopment programme due to start next year. Under the Government's support scheme for cultural projects (ACCESS), the theatre is hopeful that a further grant of £1 million, to supplement the £6 million made available by the two local authorities in Cork and the Arts Council, as well as a public appeal, will be sanctioned. The funding application is now being drawn up and the Opera House board should hear early next year if it has been successful.

The money would be used to complete outside work on the building towards the river side and at Half Moon Lane where the adjoining theatre of the same name has kept the Opera House flag flying during the renovations. The somewhat staid and dull stone exterior of the Opera House building has never won the approval of the theatregoing public in Cork and news that, finally, something is to be done about it will be welcomed. Further grant aid will also enable other necessary upgrading and redecoration in the theatre to be completed.

For the chairman of the Opera House board, Mr Charlie Hennessy, the recent a.g.m. was an opportunity to announce a profit for the second year running - last year, the figure was £75,735 - and to speak of a theatre looking ahead to better times.

The upturn in fortunes, he said after the meeting, might well be the signal that the theatre was about to enter an era in which it would be self-supporting. "Other than essential maintenance, there has been no real work carried out on the Opera House since 1965. The new-look building will be part of the refurbishment of the city itself which is now under way and it couldn't be happening at a better time. At last the graph is going the right way. I think we are justified in feeling that the future holds better things for us and that the theatre will continue to play a vital part in the life of the city."