Royal Opera House, Mumbai

Royal Opera House, also known as Opera House in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is India's only surviving opera house. The name ‘Royal’ got prefixed to ‘opera house’ as its foundation stone was laid during the British Raj in 1909, and King George V inaugurated the building in 1911 while the building was still under construction. But it was completed in 1912. Additions were made to the building up to 1915.

With cinematography getting popular in the early 1930s, the opera house was modified for screening films and holding fashion shows. It was in January 1991 that the last film show was held here. There after the premises has been acquired by the erstwhile princely state of Gondal family on a 999 year lease. In 1993, the last public event: the Kathiawad fashion show was held here. The area around the theatre is also referred to as the Opera House in Mumbai.

Ultimately, in 1980s it was closed down. Till recently, it was in a dilapidated condition but in March 2008 the Maharashtra Government agencies announced that they were undertaking conservation measures to restore the heritage structure to its original grandeur. The operational wings of the opera house at the time of restoration works were only a tea stall and shops on the ground floor.


The Opera House built in baroque design featuring a blend of European and Indian architectural style was conceived in 1908 by Maurice Bandmann and Jehangir Framji Karaka. It was built with exquisite Italian marble on a leased land close to the Kennedy and Sandhurst bridges. Although the work was completed in 1912, several additions were made until 1915. The pediment figure at the pinnacle was substituted with three cherubs. A pair of unique crystal chandeliers, called the ‘Sans Souci’, donated by the David Sassoon family, which was earlier located in the Sassoon mansion, was shifted to the foyer of the opera house. At the main entrance, the dome is segmented into eight different parts "as a tribute to poets, dramatists, novelists, literati and people from art and culture." The interiors of the opera house as it existed in the past were provided with orchestra stalls with cosy cane chairs. 26 rows of boxes with couches were provided behind the stalls. The seating enabled a clear view of the stage to all the people seated in the stalls and in the Dress Circle. The acoustics were planned by providing the ceiling in a manner that permitted distinct audibility to audience seated in the gallery to hear every word or song from the stage. The entrance was originally designed with a frontage for carriages to drive in.

Past events

Since its inauguration in 1912, the opera house was the pride of Bombay, as the only opera house in the country. The entertainment extravaganza at this opera house was started by American magician Raymond followed by several premiers of the famous Bollywood movies. The opera house screened not only premieres of Bollywood movies but also live theatre performances by French production Pathé, Prithviraj Kapoor, and Marathi stalwarts like Bal Gandharva and Dinanath Mangeshkar. Lata Mangeshkar, the renowned play back singer of India gave her first performance at this opera house. In 1993, Fashion designer Sangita Kathiwada, a relative of Jyotinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Gondal (the owner of the place), held a fashion show at this opera house, and it was the last public event reported here.

Restoration measures

Initially, in May 2001, it was noted that the opera house as a Heritage building could not be redeveloped but only restored. Even for restoration, funds needed to be found. With these two basic aspects in view, the planning dictum followed was that:

The initial plan proposed was to convert a part of the open plot to be developed commercially to generate funds, which could self sustain the expenditure involved in the restoration and maintenance of the existing heritage building. To proceed further with this plan, it was also considered essential to negotiate with the existing owner Maharaja Vikramsinghji Bhojraji of Gondal to get his consent to the incentive plan. The Maharashtra State Government wanted to take over the Opera House to restore it to its original grandeur. The government requested the Mumbai Urban Heritage Conservation Committee (MUHCC) to acquire the heritage structure after verifying its legal status. The MUHCC had already been entrusted the task of preparing plans for restoration of this heritage building categorised as a grade II heritage structure. The detailed proposal for conservation was prepared by well known conservation architects of Mumbai. In May 2008, MUHCC authorised Abha Narain Lambah and her associates to carry out structural stabilisation of the building and its restoration. Abha, the architect, considers the restoration of the Opera House as her dream project and states:

Repair to the roof and the balconies of the structure are taken up on priority. With the conservation works undertaken, the erstwhile Maharaja of Gondal expects that the structure's original grandeur would be restored.