Blog Post #1: Our History: A New Opera House for Northampton - ACADEMY OF MUSIC

Academy of Music Historic Photograph

This post is the first in a series about the history of the Academy, appearing weekly for the duration of our First Ever Capital Campaign.

By Executive Director Debra J’Anthony

As excited as we are about the prospect of restoring the Academy to its 19th-century grandeur, imagine how excited the Northampton community was in 1889, when plans for a state-of-the-art opera house were first announced.

Here’s an excerpt from the Gazette, dated December 24, 1889, that highlights the enthusiasm for the much-needed venue. Mr. Edward H. R. Lyman, a Northampton native, had recently announced his intention to build an opera house on New South Street:

“Mr. Lyman’s proposed academy of music will be a grand addition to the facilities of this city for enjoyment and education. It is needed, too. The town has outgrown the present opera house and the city hall and a place of accommodating a larger number of people is demanded. The seating of the new building is said to be 1000. We should say that that is too small. Our city hall has many times had crowded into it an equal or larger number. The Jenny Lind concerts of nearly forty years ago drew a larger number and taxed to the utmost the Old Church. The city will continue to grow, and a house capable of seating 1500 people will soon be needed.”

On opening day, May 23, 1891, there was a full house. Musicians from Boston performed under the baton of Smith College professor R. C. Blodgett. The next day, a Sunday Republican article went on at length about the lighting fixtures:

“On entering the structure last evening one of the first features noticed is the lighting system. The chandelier suspended in the center of the house is of bronze. It is an original design and cost about $2000. It contains 64 incandescent lamps, radiating like the points of a star. . . . The lighting of the theater is always a difficult matter, but electrical experts have apparently reached pretty near the line of perfection. Edison says that the lights have never been placed so completely under the control of the director as in the system planned for this building.”

Today, our lighting is still state-of-the-art. If only Edison could see it!

Help restore the Academy! We’re replacing the seats in the auditorium, repairing and repainting the ornate plaster, insulating and replacing the stage roof, and adding aisle lighting. Learn more.