Opera Scotland

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee Dundee

Opened, as Her Majestty's Theatre and Opera House, 19 October 1885.

Design: William Alexander.

Original capacity 1700.

Closed, for conversion to cinema, 1919.

Her Majesty's was an extremely successful theatre throughout its life. It was built at a cost of £13,000, the first £8000 coming from a consortium of four local businessmen, the rest (only £4000 actually sought), being gathered by them from a chosen list of the citizenry, who took ten pound shares in multiples of ten - an excellent way to fund a project, all co-ordinated by William McFarland, who had many years experience in managing the previous Dundee theatre and music hall.

While the standards of musicianship in theatrical pit bands was notoriously variable, Her Majesty's does seem to have maintained a consistently high standard throughout its life, with its musicians giving promenade concerts and chamber recitals in addition to their teaching work. This was largely due to the long-term presence (1892-1919) of a violinist-conductor of talent and authority, H Everitt Loseby.

The theatrical diet was largely one of popular drama, pantomime and musical comedy. There were regular visits by companies of the top actor-managers, including Sir Henry Irving, Edward Compton, Frank Benson and Martin Harvey. Light opera, including the ubiquitous D'Oyly Carte shows, toured frequently. There were regular visits by the serious opera companies, including Carl Rosa and Moody-Manners. In 1913 there was even an appearance by Diaghilev's Russian Ballet.

Unfortunately, the mania for cinema, as strong in Dundee as in any other city, had a more sweeping effect. Cinema companies, usually based in Glasgow or London, scoured Dundee for suitable venues. La Scala, a purpose-built, and very attractive cinema, had opened in Murraygate in 1913. Its owners needed a second outlet in the city centre, and seem to have made the owners of Her Majesty's an offer they simply  could not refuse.

After a gap of two years, in 1921, the serious elements of theatrical production which had graced Her Majesty's began to appear at the King's in the Cowgate, previously a variety house. Normal service was resumed until 1928, when lightning struck twice, and the King's also became a cinema.

And what of Her Majesty's? In 1930 the interior was reconstructed and it became the Majestic Cinema. In 1941 an electrical fire gutted the building, which lay derelict for more than a decade. In 1956 the modern Capitol cinema opened on the site, most of the Victorian masonry being strong enough to re-use. Rebranded variously as ABC and Cannon, it was divided into two cinemas (none too successfully) and now serves the town in the guise of a pair of large city centre pubs - one at present awaiting a new operator.


Scottish Premieres:

Djamileh (Georges Bizet 1892)

Amico Fritz (Pietro Mascagni 1892)

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