With superb acoustics and an orchestra pit large enough to accommodate 100 musicians, the restored 1922 Detroit Opera House is home of the Michigan Opera Theatre, producer of grand opera and dance productions.
The Opera House, designed by C. Howard Crane, who also designed other Detroit theaters such as the DSO's Orchestra Hall and Fox Theater, was originally known as the Capitol Theater, and was among the first of several performance venues built around Detroit's Grand Circus Park. At the time of its gala premiere, the 4,250-seat theater claimed to be the fifth largest in the world. The theater also touted superb acoustics in the style of the grand European opera houses, thanks to the designing expertise of C. Howard Crane, whose genius for theater design took him to cities around the nation.
Audiences were captivated by the Capitol Theater's Italian Renaissance style with lavish crystal chandeliers, frescoes, brass fixtures, and marble stairways. Rich red-rose Italian damask was used for the main-stage curtain and draperies throughout the house. Most of these features are still present today in the Detroit Opera House.
Through the 1930s, the theater underwent two name changes, while hosting the likes of Will Rogers, Louis Armstrong, Betty Hutton, Guy Lombardo, and Duke Ellington. Later, rock n' roll stars of the 1950s graced the stage as well.
Like many historic and cultural landmarks, the theater underwent some restoration after facing near decay. It was reconfigured into the 3,367-seat Grand Circus Theater movie house. It was closed in 1978 and reopened briefly under the same name in the 1980s. During this time, the theater presented intermittent entertainment from mainstream artists such as Ray Charles to Roy Orbison, to alternative rock. Following a small fire in 1985, the theater closed its doors and the stage became silent.
Meanwhile, the nomadic Michigan Opera Theatre, in search of a home, came upon the neglected theater and destiny was made. After an extensive restoration in the 1990s, the Michigan Opera Theatre held its gala opening in 1996, featuring Luciano Pavarotti. The reconfigured theater seats 2,700 and hosts opera, dance productions from touring companies, and other musical and comedy events. Visitors also enjoy backstage tours with the Opera House Ambassadors of the Opera House. During the tours, guests learn about the theater's restoration, meet the people behind the scenes, and tour the illustrious stage.
For the finest in opera, audiences rely on the Detroit Opera House to feature masterpieces such as "La Sonnambula" by Vincenzo Bellini, "La Rondine" by Giacomo Puccini, and "La Traviata" by Giuseppe Verdi. Broadway award-winning musicals, such as "The Lion King" hold multi-week engagements at the Opera House as well.
In addition to opera, dance is strongly represented during the Detroit Opera House's season. Making its first tour of the U.S. and the Detroit Opera House, "African Footprint" is to South African what "Riverdance" is to the Irish and "Stomp" is to the British. The hypnotic heartbeat of African drum and Afro- and Euro-centric music and dance tells the vibrant and diverse history of South Africa.
The vibrant Alvin Ailey Dance Company also makes appearances at the Opera House by popular demand from Detroit patrons, with a program that includes the American masterpiece, "The Road of the Phoebe Show" and Ailey's signature work, "Revelations."
Great dance performances such as "Giselle," performed by the Joffrey Ballet, grace the Opera House stage. Ballet's most famous ghost story has been enchanting audiences for more than 175 years. Fit for the Detroit stage, this lavish production features Adolphe Adam's beautiful and haunting score, brought to life by the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra.
The Orchestra's popular Opera Talks and Dance Talks offer a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the evening's performances and meet a few new friends. The mini-lectures begin one hour before the curtain rises and are free to all ticketed guests.
Prior or following a performance, dining at the Detroit Opera House can be enjoyed at the Cadillac Opera Cafe, on the Madison Avenue side of the theater. The cozy, pub-like bistro opens two hours before curtain and serves salads, soups, and sandwiches. The cafe remains open for desserts following performances. Guests may also choose to dine in the Theater District, within walking distance of the Detroit Opera House.
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