Facelift for grand old dame

Bianca Nkomo

THE southern hemisphere’s oldest opera house is getting a multimillion-rand facelift. Not only is the 120-year-old Opera House in Port Elizabeth getting a revamp, but it will also be extended to the tune of R29-million.

This means the facility will be able to create its own productions, not just host travelling acts.

“I am thrilled,” Opera House chief executive officer Monde Ngonyama said yesterday.

In 2010, the Arts and Culture Department gave the theatre R21-million for its “new vision” project. After a further appeal, it added R8-million last year.

The vision includes warehousing, rehearsal rooms, seminar rooms, space for wardrobes and archiving for costumes, a small opera school and a restaurant.

“With all these extras, we’ll be able to coordinate with performing artists,” Ngonyama said.

Construction begins in the first quarter of next year.

Professor Albrecht Herholdt, director of architecture firm The Matrix…CC, said it was important to preserve the Opera House while contrasting it with a new contemporary extension.

“You respect the old by contrasting in a sympathetic way,” Herholdt said.

The bottom two storeys of the fully wheelchair-friendly new building will be allocated to production while the third floor will be a networking space.

Stage World Theatre School will lease out some of the premises.

The entire third floor will be a restaurant with a spiral staircase leading to a garden roof, which will be visible from the nearby Donkin Reserve.

The renovations will transform the current building into a wheelchair-friendly and fire-safe facility.

Additionally, the air-conditioning system will be upgraded and the outside of the building painted.

The Opera House is the only one in the country not funded by national government. The provincial government allocates R1.1-million a month towards its operational costs.

In her 2012 annual policy and budget speech, Eastern Cape Arts and Culture MEC Xoliswa Tom pledged that the Opera House would be declared a cultural institution, which would qualify it for national funding.

The new building plans will be showcased at a public participation meeting to be held at The Barn on July 17.

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