Opera Scotland

King's Theatre, Dundee Dundee

Since the loss of the King’s, which was converted successively to cinema, then bingo and later a nightclub, Dundee has been unable to host mainstage opera.  At present the building is unused, though it has changed hands several times. In the nineties a campaign succeeded in preventing further damage, but the building is still considered to be 'at risk'. 

The King’s Theatre and Hippodrome was built in 1909.  Initially it opened exclusively as a variety house.  The city's principal home for touring theatre (including drama, musicals and opera) was then Her Majesty's in Seagate, This was consistently profitable, but a cinema company, urgently wanting further venues, bought it in 1919.  Several other modern variety houses remained in the city (eg the Palace in Nethergate and Gaiety in Victoria Road), and in 1922 the King's was switched to accommodate the functions that had been lost in 1919.

The King's remained Dundee’s regular home for touring shows including opera until 1928, when it, too, was bought by a cinema company.  At this point the interior remained intact, though adjacent 'front of house' areas, including bars and restaurants, were sold off.  The stage was occasionaly used for touring musicals as well as local amateur companies, but touring drama, opera and dance were completely excluded.

After the war the theatre was renamed as the Gaumont Cinema.  In 1954, the owners realised they had within their chain of purpose-built cinema buildings a group of six traditional theatres.  It was decided that six weeks in the year could be used for accommodation of touring shows.  Dundee was the only Scottish venue included in the six.   For several years Dundee audiences were again able to sees touring opera - two visits by Carl Rosa then five by Sadler's Wells, all beng hugely popular.   Other acts included the Royal Ballet, several musicals (such as Wedding in Paris with Evelyn Laye)  and one off events (including Cliff Richard and the Shadows).

This continued until 1961, when the owners decided that they wanted a wide-screen cinema.  At this time, places of entertainment were not listed or protected, and no planning approvals were required.   This change eventually involved destruction of many internal features, including the whole stage and proscenium, boxes, balcony, artists' dressing rooms and part of the auditorium's ceiling.

In 1959, on the Sadler's Wells visit, the company's young director, Alexander Gibson, conducted four different operas, and Colin Davis conducted Fidelio.  One of the ‘Opera Scotland’ team remembers seeing his first opera here in 1961 (aged eight), when the Wells included a new staging of the Barber of Seville in the week's repertoire.

In recent years the building has been under threat, though it is now listed (Grade 2).  There is a campaign to have this handsome building restored as a main stage theatre – let us hope that this time it is successful.

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