Thursday, 2 August 2012

Side Note: The Great Toronto Opera Houses

In our last post we looked at how The Gladstone once hosted Vaudeville performers on their way out of town. On a related note, we thought we'd share this article from The Bulletin about Toronto's historic opera houses, which thrived in the downtown core until Vaudeville put them out of business.

The article starts in the early 1800s when most theatre in Toronto was played in taverns, the performances considered amateurish by international standards, and the scene in desperate need of modernization and infrastructure to be internationally competitive.

The Grand Opera House in Toronto
(from the Canadian Illustrated News)
The first major step forward was the opening of The Royal Lyceum in 1848 (which stood where the TD Centre is today), followed in 1873 by perhaps the most famous: the Grand Opera House at Adelaide and Yonge, a 1750 seat palace that hosted some of the world's greatest performers and some truly spectacular shows:

"Unlike today when going to the opera is going to the Opera with a capital-O, 150 years ago a night at the opera might also have included comics singing the popular songs of the day, musical interludes, poetry readings and novelty acts. It mixed together.... for an enjoyable night out that ended with a rousing chorus of Rule Britannia. The age of the Music Hall had arrived."

Sadly for the Grand, Toronto in the 1800s was prone to catching the full article here.

Side note to this side note:
The Grand Opera House was also home to one of the Canadian art world's greatest mysteries when its owner, theatre magnate Ambrose Small, went missing after depositing a cheque for $1 million in a nearby bank. The case caught the attention of mystery lovers around the world, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the very public investigation would reveal that Small kept a secret sex room at the Grand Opera House where he entertained his numerous mistresses. His Wikipedia page is definitely worth a read.

A great shot of Yonge and Adelaide
circa 1907 and 2010 from Toronto Before

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