By Dylan Marsh
Eagle Times Staff – June 28, 2022
Photo: Claremont’s Off Broad Street Players perform “The Burglar” at the 125th anniversary of the Claremont Opera House
Photo by Dylan Marsh/EAGLE TIMES STAFF
CLAREMONT — The historic Claremont Opera House celebrated 125 years as a staple of arts and community on Saturday, June 25, 2022.
The event featured selections from “Stage Whispers: A Living History, Retold” , a new history of Claremont written by Annalisa Parent. Sections from the book were told by Clarmeonts Off Broad Street Players, a local community theater group.
The sections of the book read by the Off Broad Street players were excerpts from 41 interviews with 51 residents, recorded in 1979. Collected in 1979 by historian and archivist Gerald Gatz, he was instrumental in preserving this important history of Claremont. The interviews recapped the lives of the citizens of Claremont during a period of Claremont that had a burgeoning arts and music scene. Some of these stories included the performance of “Chimes Of Normandy” a comic opera that featured a live elephant and ponies on the stage of the Claremont Opera House. One cast member spoke about how they had attempted, and failed, to get the elephant in through a second story window using a horse drawn pulley. Eventually the elephant had to be walked up the stairs to the stage. To remove the elephant, the trainer came out and asked everyone in the audience to be very still and quiet as the elephant left the stage.
“A century ago, Claremont, New Hampshire was a cultural mecca—a destination which drew performers from as far off as Boston and Montreal—and spectators from everywhere in between. Imagine if the popular bands of today were to make Claremont, New Hampshire, a tour stop, if your favorite A-list actors stopped by the local cinema for an appearance, or your favorite sports stars played right here in town. So it was for a period of time right here in our fair city,” Parent read from an excerpt of her book.
Music and vaudeville acts also flourished in Claremont’s bygone years. The Off Broad Street Players also mentioned a number of theaters and music venues in their recitations. Pine Grove Park and Roseland were mentioned often and for good reason. Some of the biggest names in music at the time had come to play at these places, like Duke Ellington, Rudy Vallee, and even famed singer and band leader, Cab Calloway. These places were so popular at the time that a train ran from Newport to Claremont just to bring people to town that wanted to see the shows.
Movie theaters sprang up in downtown Claremont as films with recorded audio or “talkies” became more prevalent in the area. Some of these theaters like the Latchis Theater, whose marquee is still visible on Pleasant street, would not only host screenings of films, but vaudeville acts on Sunday nights.
The Claremont Opera House Association also wanted to pay homage to other important historical moments that took place at the COH. This included a (re)dedication and presentation of the key for the Opera House. The original key was given to the city of Claremont after the doors opened in 1897 and this important moment was reenacted with Mayor Dale Girard receiving a duplicate key. Scott Magnuson in the role of Burt Chellis Esq. joked with Girard backstage that, “the key doesn’t go to anything so don’t try it.”
The stage also saw a performance of ‘The Burglar’ a comedy in one act by Margaret Cameron, performed by cast members of the Off Broad Street Players. The play was the first performed on the opera house stage in 1897.
I think they did a wonderful job making sure they had a good view on how everything was done over the last 125 years. It’s really amazing to see how the facility has changed over the years,” said Girard.
The existence of the Claremont Opera House has not always been so certain. In the 1960’s, the Opera House was closed ,and remained boarded up for 15 years. The intention at the time was to remove the second floor and the opera house along with it. Only after former Mayor and State Senator Marion Phillips, along with other members of the community, were able to receive funding and presented the city council with the importance of the Opera House was it able to be reopened. Claremont Opera House Inc. was then able to begin the restoration process which included building the atrium, Police Department, and Court House sections of the Town Hall.
To close out the night, a number of historically relevant musical numbers were performed by the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts, East Bay Jazz Ensemble and the Claremont American Band. Some of the numbers included were the Claremont Grand March(1868), the Claremont Suite(2014), and the Claremont Triumphant(2010). The West Claremont Center for Music and The Arts is also currently in the process of opening their WCCMA’s Claremont Creative Center at 56 Opera House Square.
The Claremont Opera House board has been working diligently to bring more diversified acts to the stage. President of the COH Board of Directors Felicia Brych Dalke told the Eagle Times that until a few years ago, “cover bands and comedy shows were the only things that generated revenue, so they had to put those things on, which didn’t leave room for other types of entertainment.” The COH Board of Directors has been working on their renaissance project for the Opera House though and with grants, funding, and new staff they hope to bring more diversified groups to the stage.
“We are certainly trying to engage with the community more. It takes a lot of time, effort and funding though and it’s not possible to sustain the opera house with just ticket sales. So it’s nice to have an event like this that reminds everyone just how special our opera house has always been,” said President Bryche Dalke.
The Claremont Opera House looks forward to hosting some upcoming events such as Grilling For Good in conjunction with the Claremont Soup Kitchen and Amplified Arts’ production of Jane Austen’s Emma. Both events will take place in July.