The majestic theatre with the gold columns on St Hill Street is the Royal Wanganui Opera House. Since its opening in 1899, the Royal Whanganui Opera House has gained national and international recognition for its beautiful architecture and great acoustics.
Used regularly, it is a big part of cultural entertainment in Whanganui with touring artists and shows as well as local productions, fashion shows and dance groups.
The Royal Whanganui Opera House is New Zealand’s last surviving Victorian Theatre and the only theatre in New Zealand to have a Royal Charter, awarded for the centenary celebration in 1999. It was designed by Wellington Architect George Stevenson and commissioned to commemorate Queen Victoria’s reign. It was close to the then railway station and the port – the preferred methods of transport by theatre companies, and has survived three fires. Constructed in five months and, unusually for the period, lit from the beginning with electricity and gas.
The Wanganui Herald of the day recorded that “the building which is of wood, resting on massive concrete foundations, all the inside walls being plastered. In size, it compares favorably with any theatre in the colony, the auditorium affords seating for over one thousand persons. The dress circle and orchestral stall seats are of the latest pattern, with cast-iron frames and upholstered backs, the latter to tip up, thus giving ample room for persons to pass in front of those sitting down…”
The circle itself was supported from below by 18 cast iron pillars, painted to imitate marble, and which spoiled the view of patrons. Even today patrons avoid buying seats located too close to the pillars. Behind the circle was a reception and refreshment room”.
The 120-year-old theatre has hosted many events and concerts including grand opera, operetta, tribute concerts, piano recitals, orchestral concerts, school events, lectures, graduations, fashion shows, dance of all forms, and floral theatre.
Functions requiring a stage and auditorium style seating can be accommodated. Wedding ceremonies have been performed and the stage can accommodate a reception of up to 80.