Stornoway’s Opera House

7 09 2009

Even among old SYs who should know better, there is a common misconception that the town’s Opera House on South Beach was named ironically, and that it was actually a decrepit and malodorous public toilet frequented by local worthies seeking a sheltered spot in which to drink 4-Crown and Eldorado and murder a few Gaelic songs.

In fact, the magnificent harbourside venue enjoyed an international reputation in its day, rivalling Milan’s La Scala, drawing top divas and divos from across the world and – ultimately – providing the model for Sydney’s less successful copy.

The Opera House was opened in 1774 by the powerful Habostburg Emperor Calum Dan III. Calum Dan was keen to showcase the talents of his protégé, the young Parkend composer Wolfgang Amadaneus Murdozart, and in the early years, Murdozart’s productions such as Don Giovannsahovano and The Marriage of Fidigarry established the Opera House’s prestige worldwide.

Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, the leading lights of grand were drawn to the building’s unique acoustics. It is said that Wagner was inspired to write “Ride of the Valkyries” by the terrifying reverberations of an irate Ch*rsty Al*n* outside, shouting for B*gie to bring out a bottle of QC in which she had a half share. In the mid 20th century, top performers such as Maria Callanish, Enrico Carishaderuso and the great Mario Lacasaidh would arrive on the Loch Seaforth, be wuyined and duyined in the Lido café, smoke a couple of woodbines and then play to capacity audiences of 4 and sometimes 5.

In the late 1960s slim Rubhach opera star Luciano Paibleotti first visited Stornoway to deliver a bravura season of Puccini’s La Blonehemme. During his residency he developed a fondness for white marags and duff, leading to an enormous weight gain and the figure for which he subsequently became famous.

In the 1980s the Opera House staged a highly avante-garde improvised production of Amadan & Guga’s “Nixon in (Vitreous) China”, lasting 8 years and featuring a “found” cast – B*gie as Nixon and D*ggum Da as Chairman Mao – with a quarter bottle of Trawler Rum representing Taiwan and a row of Piper Export cans as the Great Wall. It was the challenging realism of this production – 3 years into Act 2 – that led the Opera House to be mistakenly identified as a failed public toilet and demolished by the Comhairle.

Subsequent abortive attempts to stage operas in the Superloos failed because cast, orchestra and audience kept getting flushed out automatically every 15 minutes. Thus ended Stornoway’s days as a world centre for the operatic arts.

Historical Note: Students of theatrical architecture will be aware that the designer of Sydney Opera House fell out with the project managers part way through construction and never saw his vision completed as he would have wanted it. True experts in the field will also know that what the cove had specified was an exact copy of Stornoway’s harbourside masterpiece – but scaled up. The Aussies would have gone along with too, had the plans not required 400-foot high urinals, A bag of empty 40-foot long Piper Export cans blocking a 200-foot high lavvy pan, and 600-foot tall animatronic B*gie, Sn**lie and D*gg*m Das singing “An Teid Thu Leam a’ Mhairi” on loop.

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