Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Hawke's Bay Opera House: The First One Hundred Years 1915-2015 by Michael Fowler

The iconic building we know as the Hawke’s Bay Opera House has been vacant since 2014; which sadly means it wasn’t open for its 100th birthday in 2015. However this didn’t stop local historian Michael Fowler from putting together this completely readable tribute to the great theatre that started life as the Hastings Municipal Theatre.

Yet it nearly wasn’t built. Many people of the time thought it wasn’t necessary for a theatre to be built in Hastings especially when there was a perfectly good theatre in nearby Napier. Further arguments were aired on who should design the theatre and whether it wouldn’t better be sited on Heretaunga Street. The latter drawing petitions for and against. Wellingtonian theatre architect, Henry White, designed the Art Deco exterior and the Art Nouveau interior with unobstructed views of the stage, perfect acoustics and excellent ventilation.

From the first proposal to the latest closure in 2014 when the Opera House was deemed to be unsafe in the event of an earthquake, this book tells it all. As we sail through the descriptions of past performances, both moving pictures and live acts, we experience a real feel for the theatre and its entertainment. Whether it was the 1920 romantic comedy opera Marama; the 1971 production of Hello Dolly; the Trapp Family Singers tour in 1955; or John Clarke’s tour with Fred Dagg in the 1970s, there was something for everyone.

Throughout this book, Michael Fowler has bought the theatre to life with numerous black and white and colour photographs. They really showcase the different sides of the Municipal Theatre. The stark photograph of the 1922 boxing match between Australian Pat Gleeson and American Jerry Monahan contrasts with the softly focussed colour photograph of Kiri Te Kanawa in her 2007 recital.

And like all good histories it is the people who bring the story to life. Michael Fowler has successfully used their narratives to bring together this one hundred year tale of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House.

Reviewed by Veronica 

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