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PM: Opening of Hawke’s Bay Opera House

Friday 24 March 2006

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Address at Opening of Hawke’s Bay Opera House

Cnr Hastings and Heretaunga Streets

7.30 pm

Friday 24 March 2006

Thank you for giving me the honour of performing the official opening of the restored Hawke’s Bay Opera House tonight.

Over the years I have come to a number of events at the Opera House – for opera and other musical events, and as I recall for a Grey Power meeting.

As an occasional visitor, I could see that this theatre was a grand old lady, but in need of some tender loving care.

So I was delighted to hear of the commitment Hastings City Council was making to the restoration of the theatre and precinct, following on from the work done four years ago to upgrade some of the backstage facilities.

A few months ago, I met Mayor Lawrence Yule here and saw the reconstruction work in full swing.

I want to commend the Hastings City Council for the leadership it has given to this very important heritage project, which is of significance nationally as well as local.

The Hastings Municipal Theatre, as we have known it, was given a Category One listing by the Historic Places Trust in 1990.

That’s because it is one of New Zealand’s most significant examples of Spanish Mission-style architecture, with the added interest of its Art Nouveau interior.

As well, it is regarded as one of the best lyric theatres in Australasia.

The architect, Henry Eli White, was born in Dunedin, and during his career designed 130 theatres. This one in Hastings is one of the few left in New Zealand. Another, built as His Majesty’s Theatre, and now known as the St James, in Wellington, was the largest theatre in Australasia when it was built – and also the first steel framed reinforced concrete theatre in New Zealand.

White used an innovative cantilever design principle in his theatres, which avoided the use of columns to hold up the dress circle and gallery, and thus gave the audience a better view of the stage.

This theatre was completed in 1915, with 1110 seats at a cost of £12,000.

It was put to many uses – not only for live musical and theatre performances, but also for films, and even boxing matches.

The staff of the Tomoana Freezing Works used it for their annual productions too !

In 1931, the Hawke’s Bay earthquake caused tremendous disaster and tragedy, as we recalled during the 75th anniversary commemoration a few weeks ago. So it is a tremendous tribute to Henry Eli White’s design that this building was one of a very few large buildings in the region to survive the quake.

In preserving this theatre, therefore, the people of Hastings are making a significant statement about its cultural and historic importance. As well Hastings is ensuring that it has a first class performance venue for arts and culture in the city – for both local and touring productions. The refurbished theatre will enhance the cultural life of the city.

I am impressed at the fundraising done within the city for the project, and the willingness of local businesses and media to take part. Asking supermarket customers to add a little to their bill as a donation is very innovative – and I thank New World for making it possible and local media for promoting it.

Many others in the community have also made contributions large and small – enabling some $3 million to be raised to date. Thank you, John Buck of Te Mata Estate for the vital part you have played over a number of years.

Tonight the dream comes true with the official opening of the beautifully restored Hawke’s Bay Opera House. Further work is to come on the Municipal Building and on street works and urban design around the precinct. I know the momentum behind the project is unstoppable.

Congratulations to Mayor Lawrence Yule, Hastings District Council, and the people of Hastings on what you have achieved.

It is now my pleasure to declare the restored Hawke’s Bay Opera House officially open.


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