Tag Archives: Opera

Opera House in St. John’s


July 26, 1888

Advertisement: The Telegram, St. John’s, July 23, 1888.

There was much excitement in St.  John’s on Thursday, July 26, 1888   with the official opening of a “City Opera House.”

Throughout the week the local newspapers were advertising the highly anticipated opening with bold headlines that proclaimed   “A Grand Artistic Opening.”  The advertisements encouraged residents of St. John’s

“to reserve their tickets during the day, at J.W. Foran’s  Confectionary Store, Atlantic Hotel Building to avoid the crush at the Ticket office.”

The Tickets did not come cheap!!

Admission for Reserved Seats (Dress Circle) 75 cents; Orchestra Chairs, 50 cents; Gallery Chairs, 30 cents; Parquette, 20 Cents  and  the luxury  of a box seat a whopping $6.00.

The proprietor of the Opera House was the St. John’s businessman J.W. Foran who was well established at the J.W. Foran Confectionary Store in the Atlantic Hotel Building.  In his advertisements he stated:

“The proprietor of the city opera house (Mr. J. W. Foran) seeing the great want of a place of musical and dramatic talent, of which the rising generation have not had the advantage of hearing or seeing, has suited the opera house with all modern improvements, suitable for the production of entertainments of the very highest order – thus giving the people o St. John’s an opportunity of hearing some of the best musical talent in America. The establishment of such a space means a very large outlay, and it is to be hoped that the public will give it that substantial support which will warrant its permanency. The season will commence with the famous San Francisco Minstrels”

This talented group from San Francisco was under the management of Charles L. Howard. Engaged for a limited season only, the cost of transportation alone was nearly one thousand dollars. Before each performance, a Grand Balcony Serenade was to be given by the Silver Cornet Band.

Reviews of the performances during the following week stated that the

“minstrel’s are nightly drawing large and respectable audiences. They have advanced considerably in the estimation of our people since their first appearance which did not give the satisfaction anticipated and are steadily increasing in popularity.”

This was the first Opera House in St. John’s, but was not the first opera.

The first opera performed in Newfoundland, Thomas Linley’s The Duenna; or the Double Elopement, was presented in May 20, 1820 as a benefit for the victims of the great fire of 1817.   The Duenna is a three-act comic opera, was considered one of the most successful operas ever staged in England. Lord George Byron called it “the best opera ever written”).

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to look at MG 343.1  the script for Patience: a new & original aesthetic  an opera  written by W.S. Gilbert, Composed by Arthur Sullivan , 12 Apr. 1883. Item consists of Opera that was “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s”.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit:  How did a young girl from  an outport community on the  northeast coast of  Newfoundland gain  international recognition on  the stages of the world?  http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_memories/pm_v2.php?lg=English&ex=00000469&fl=0&id=exhibit_home

Recommended:   Opera on the Avalon (OOTA)  is Canada’s newest opera company in the oldest city in North America.  OOTA presents the best of traditional opera and musical theatre, with engaging and powerful new theatrical productions, that are focused on topics and themes which resonate within our regional and international communities.   Opera on the Avalon:  http://operaontheavalon.com/about/





Opera tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador


September 8, 1879

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 35-24.7 The Opera Theatre in the Total Abstinence Hall,St. John’s, 1894.

There was much excitement in St. John’s on (8 September 1879) with the debut performance of Clara Fisher in St. John’s.  Miss Fisher was the American star of the Josie Loane Opera Company; the young soprano was starring in the opera the H.M.S. Pinafore.  The performance marked the emergence of an amateur and semi-professional operatic tradition in St John’s.

Miss Fisher appreciated her reception – she was so impressed that she moved to Newfoundland, staying for over a decade, becoming one of the most popular actresses and singers in St. John’s.

She worked extensively with (Sir) Charles Hutton appearing in several of his adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Foremost among these productions were Patience in 1883, The Mikado in 1886, The Sorcerer in 1887, and Trial by Jury and Cox and Box in 1894. Numerous other operettas followed, several directed by the Englishman Peter LeSueur just after the turn of the century, or by Gordon Christian in the 1930s, but the majority was under Hutton’s direction.

The operatic movement almost ended with Hutton’s retirement from public life in 1939, his protégé, Ignatius Rumboldt, sustained the tradition for another decade.

Much of the operatic tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador for the past 40 years has been fostered by the School of Music at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The School produces either one full opera or a series of one act operas, fully staged, annually. The School of Music has also supported undergraduate and graduate training in opera, developing high profile, active careers in the field.

Memorial has also developed the Opera Road Show is a professional touring option for students that has been running for 13 years and has reached thousands of children across the province with its operas specially tailored for young children.

The new incarnation has been ‘Opera on the Avalon’ establishd in 2009. It has become a leader for invigorating the opera scene and increasing a following for it in Newfoundland and Labrador, producing everything from Baroque to modern operas.

Opera first came to Newfoundlandin 1820, when local amateurs in St. John’s performed the “Duenna” by Thomas Liney.

All of the buildings in St. John’s designed for theatre and opera were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. In rebuilding public buildings after 1893 consideration was given to opera, the Total Abstinence Hall, The Benevolent Irish Society Hall (BIS) and the Star of the Sea all established theatres.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Provincial Archives Division at The Rooms see MG 343.1 this item consists of an opera “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen”  at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s, 1883.

Recommended Action:  Enjoy concerts by Memorial University School of Music faculty, visiting artists and students together. http://www.mun.ca/music/

Support the work of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.  www.nsomusic.ca

We also have “Opera on the Avalon”  http://www.operaontheavalon.com/ 

Take some time to explore these sites.