Bring out your pearls, dust off those tuxedos — the curtains go up at the Royal Opera House on Thursday, and snatches of Bombay’s decadence return to Mumbai.
The opulent Charni Road venue, which opens its doors after 23 years, has been restored to its original 1916 glory. In the 1970s, the structure was remodelled as an art-deco cinema; so it may not look as you remember it from your childhood. Instead, it has all the trappings of a baroque performance venue — gilded ceilings, elaborate chandeliers, domes laced with paintings of English poets and artistes, stained-glass windows, marble statues and regal balconies.
The Gujarat-based Maharaja of Gondal bought the Opera House in 1952; his son, Shri Jyotendrasinhji, commissioned its restoration in 2010.
“The original architects spared no expense, with the best materials imported from across the world, and all of this has been painstakingly restored,” says conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, whose firm was in charge of restoring the heritage site.
The venue opens its plush 574-seat, three-tier auditorium with the inauguration of the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) film festival on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Maharaja and Maharani of Gondal will host a private opera performance on Friday by Bombay-born British soprano Patricia Rozario. After another private opera event on Saturday, the venue’s calendar has been left open.
“We want to give event organisers the time to come see the space, experience the magnitude of opportunities, and then dive in to scheduling,” says Asad Lalljee, CEO of art and culture programming and educational platform Avid Learning, who will curate performing arts events here. “The idea is to have an affordable, accessible cultural venue that revives the arts scene in Mumbai.”
Mumbai needs an authentic venue where talent can be showcased as it used to be, adds Maharani Kumud Kumari of Gondal. “I’m an opera fan, and I’m excited to watch shows here myself.”