Mumbai’s Royal Opera House lived up to its name for the first time in decades, on Friday. After remaining shut for 23 years, and serving as a cinema hall for decades before that, the restored building played host to an opera performance to celebrate its resurrection.
The private event, organised by Opera House owners Maharaja Joytendrasinhji Jadeja and Maharani Kumud Kumari Jadeja of Gondal, Gujarat, featured Bombay-born British soprano Patricia Rozario and her husband, pianist Mark Troop. The duo performed a selection of operatic arias by composers such as George Frideric Handel, Giacomo Puccini and Marc-Antoine Charpentier, interspersed with music by Schubert.
“I had heard three years ago that the opera house was being restored, and was tremendously excited. Having grown up in Mumbai, it was a building I regularly passed but never got a chance to go into,” said Rozario, speaking to HT before the event. “I tried to find out who was in charge, but with no luck. Out of the blue this summer, a friend introduced me to the curator of the opera house, who asked me if I would perform. It was a dream come true — I couldn’t believe it just fell into my lap.”
The 574-seater auditorium is just what Mumbai needs, Rozario adds. “There are very large performance spaces and small, experimental ones, but none of this size, intimate yet grand. What’s particularly special is that it is laid out like a European opera house, with an orchestra pit. We’ve tried to do operatic performances at other venues, positioning the orchestra here and there, but the full effect of an opera is complete only when the sound comes from the centre of the stage. I would love to work on a full-fledged opera here.”
For the audience, it was a chance to travel back in time.
“For someone who has never been here before, but has seen opera houses abroad, I know that instantly that this isn’t the opera house of London. With its detailing and local touches, it is the Royal Opera House of Mumbai, and that’s great. We really do need performance venues here in Mumbai — I only hope this won’t be an elitist venue,” said Bhagirathi Raman, 29, a cultural programmer at the Goethe Institute.
“It’s amazing to know that this place was literally a dump for so long — who knew it had all this fantastic architecture underneath?” added author Dilip D’Souza, 56. “I grew up in the neighbourhood and am glad to say that it’s come together really nicely — it’s virtually unrecognisable.”
Architect Monica Sharma, 34, described the experience as unique. “I’ve watched performances like Rozario’s, but only on screen. It is a completely different experience to watch it live — this could reintroduce a whole new genre of music to Mumbai.”