Mention Royal Opera House to passersby in Mumbai, and you’ll likely be pointed in the general direction of Charni Road, near Chowpatty.
Once the cultural cornerstone of the city, India’s only surviving opera house has languished in a forgotten state for over two decades, the “Opera House” name often synonymous with the surrounding neighbourhood rather than the colonial-era landmark representing it… But all that’s finally changed now, with the curtains recently raised on the heritage site following a six-year restoration project.
As you’d imagine, it was with much excitement that this culture-vulture headed over recently for a special peek behind-the-scenes…
But first. A bit of history behind the venue, which was officially inaugurated back in 1911 by King George V and then bought by the Maharaja of Gondal in 1952.
Over the years, it has played host to numerous operas and live performances (both music and theatrical), serving as a cinema hall in the early 1930s, as well as a set for Bollywood films! However, a waning audience for single-screen cinemas and subsequent neglect meant that the building was eventually shut by the time the ’80s rolled around.
Commissioned by the Maharaja’s son Shri Jyotendrasinhji, and undertaken by conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, the recent restoration takes the building back exactly 100 years, relying on old photographs, records and other footage to complete the ambitious project.
The result is rather grand, featuring original Baroque architecture married with European designs and Indian details…
You can’t help but stand in awe from the moment you step inside the elaborate foyer and proceed towards the three-tier auditorium.
Expect gilded ceilings adorned with paintings, majestic chandeliers, royal boxes and ubiquitous sense of old-world splendour…
You wouldn’t be remiss for imagining for a moment, that you were in a small European town instead – miles and miles away from the bustle of Bombay!
More enchanting still, is the discovery of cosy nooks and crannies, airy balconies, secret passageways and a rather fetching upstairs lounge which wouldn’t be out of place in a Royal European Court…
You can experience it all for yourself soon enough.
Having pulled off close to twenty events in less than two months since its opening, the Royal Opera House will soon announce a series of programmes and events for the new year including plays and musical performances.
Speaking with curator Asad Lalljee, I learned that a cafe, a more formal restaurant and (hopefully) a jazz bar are also in the works, while the venue’s vast outdoor space could see pop-up art installations and exhibits!
In sum, there will be reason a-plenty to blissfully linger once you’re there, having escaped the mundane modern world outside to embrace the old-world cultural treasures within.
Royal Opera House, Mama Padmanand Marg, Mumbai 400004