Published: May 2009
By Raul Barreneche
For its 100th birthday, a renowned opera house gets a makeover fit for a diva
Upon its opening in 1904, the London Coliseum was touted as the People's Palace of Entertainment and Art. Over the years it played host to ballet productions, Cinerama films, and big-name American musicals; the Sadler's Wells Opera, which would later be known as the English National Opera, took up residence in 1968. But before long, the theater's eclectic Edwardian façade was cracking and the once-gleaming interiors had become dingy and run-down, to say nothing of the lack of air-conditioning, which made summer performances rather unpleasant. Now, after a brief exile at the Barbican Centre, ENO has returned home to the Coliseum—fresh from a $75 million restoration—in time for the building's centennial.
The largest proscenium theater in England, the 2,358-seat Coliseum was the crowning achievement of theater architect Frank Matcham. Architectural firm Renton Howard Wood Levin stayed true to his blueprint as it repaired the terra-cotta exteriors and replaced ornamental lions; the iconic steel-frameglobe atop the Edwardian Baroque tower, illuminated with fiber optics, now rotates, an effect Matcham could never quite pull off. Interior alterations were aimed at audience comfort—roomier foyers, a two-story lobby and bar with views of Trafalgar Square, that much-needed AC. Productions in ENO's homecoming season include Carmen, Don Giovanni, and, capping the year in December, Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. St. Martin's Lane; 44-207/632-8300; www.eno.org.