For information on the theatrical form and on opera in South Africa, see the entry on Opera.
Opera House as concept
Technically the term opera house refers to a custom built theatre building used for opera performances and the venue usually consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building.
While some such venues are constructed specifically for the rehearsal and performance of operas only, most venues referred to as opera houses are actually intended for a range of performance forms, usually events of a large scale. In some cases the opera house may be more akin to a large performing arts centre, containing more than one venue of varying size and function.
Opera venues in South Africa
Over the years there have been a number of custom built venues intended for operatic (or large scale musical and balletic) perfomances, that have either borne the name Opera House or (if a dedicated venue for this kind of work within a theatre complex) The Opera.
The Opera House as a venue
This usually refers to a free standing venue, custom built for the presentation of large-scale productions. Among the various such building in South Africa are (or have been):
The Opera House, Cape Town (1893 – 1937)
The Opera House, Cape Town 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 the musical Dorothy (Stephenson and Cellier), performed by the Lyric Company.
Also called the Cape Town Opera House, it was at the time considered the finest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere.
Opera House Johannesburg
[Was there one??**]
Opera House, Port Elizabeth
Also known as the Port Elizabeth Opera House, the P.E. Opera House, the Opera House Port Elizabeth and today as The Opera House Nelson Mandela Bay, it claims to be the oldest theatre still in use on the continent of Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere.
Opera House Pretoria
This venue was first conceptualised in 1902, but finally opened on 27 February 1904. A three storey building in the rennaissance style, it was originally meant solely for opera, and was used as such for the first two years, after which - under the management of McKay Bros, the music firm, it was mostly used for gramaphone concerts and operettas, and was long a favourite venue for shows and meetings in Pretoria.
Numerous productions, in English and in Afrikaans, were done there over the years, including the premiere productions of many new South African works.
The Opera as a venue
Besides the various custom built Opera Houses in the country, many other large theatre venues, especially those intended to house larger scale productions (e.g. of opera, operatta, ballet and musical presentations) have, over the years, also been referred to as "The Opera" or "The Opera House" by locals, journalists and even in adverts and other publications. (See for example The African Theatre in Cape Town.)
In the case of the venues built for the four provincial Performing Arts Councils (PACs) (1963-1994) by the provincial performing arts councils in the 1970s-1980s, the name The Opera was specifically given to the largest venue in each of the four theatre complexes. These were all well-equipped venues for the staging of a full scale operatic production.
For more on these venues, see the entries on the four state theatres, i.e. the Nico Malan Theatre ((later known as ArtsCape); the State Theatre Pretoria; The Playhouse, Durban and the Sand Du Plessis Theatre, Bloemfontein.)
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