Cape Town Opera House

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The Cape Town Opera House is a venue in Cape Town built in 1893, and at the time considered the finest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere.

The venue is also known as the Opera House, Cape Town.

See also the entry on Opera Houses


The building was designed by G. M. Alexander, F.R.I.B.A., and built on the site of the present day main Post Office by W. Kitch for £40 000. The secretary for the Grand Parade Building Co. was E. R. Syfret, St George's Street.

It was opened on 31st August, 1893, in the presence of His Excellency the Governor General and most of the members of Parliament, by the then Mayor of Cape Town (J. Woodhead), with a performance of Dorothy, a musical by Stephenson and Cellier performed by the Lyric Company.

The venue

The building had its entrance on Grave Street, and consisted of the Grand Theatre Restaurant and The Theatre as a performance venue.

The Theatre was quipped with 1000 seats and had a fireproof corridor and was lit by gas, which was later replaced by electricity. The pit was of the latest design, stalls were well padded and covered with red leather, the dress circle and boxes were elaborate with chaste designs and there was a "gods" with bench seating.

Lessees and performers

Over the years the venue has been leased to a range of people. For example the impresario Frank de Jongh, leased the Cape Town Opera House from 1896-1937. Here he housed his Gaiety Companies, consisting of well-known overseas performers and artistes, including Zena Dare, Matheson Lang, Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Irene Vanbrugh and Kate Vaughan in a variety of plays, operas and ballets. He also hosted various well-known international performers and acts, including Mark Twain, who gave three performances of his At Home there in July 1896.

In June 1909 Leonard Rayne became the lessee for a while, while other local impressarios and producers - such as Stephen Black, Leonard Rayne and Harry Stodel - also leased the venue and performed there from time to time. Like De Jongh, Harry Stodel hosted many overseas stars, including Anna Pavlova and Harry Launder in his period as lessee.

Some significant performances

31st August, 1893: the venue's inaugural production of Dorothy (Stephenson and Cellier) by the Lyric Company.

In 1904 the first performance of An African Millionaire by Edgar Wallace, written when he was editor of the Rand Daily Mail, and based on the life of Rhodes. It was a dismal failure and closed after 6 days.

(JF & MN, TH)


Jill Fletcher, 1994)

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