On the evening of October 31,1894, Emil
Paur led the Boston Symphony Orchestra into the prelude to "Die
Meistersinger von Nurenberg." It was the opening number of the
gala concert celebrating Baltimore's new "Music Hall." Nellie
Melba was to crown the evening with her rendition of Handel's
"Sweet Bird" aria. Mr. T. Henry Randall, architect for the building
joined the throngs backstage to be congratulated by Madame Melba
on the hall's perfect acoustics.
No one could have had the foresight
to predict the many and varied sounds to ring through this building
during its first 75 years. Just 11 years later, Mike Sullivan of
Boston and Joe Gans fought a draw at the Lyric Theater. Gans,
the lightweight champion suffered an injured left eye which
eventually ended his career. In 1905, Baltimoreans were treated
to a first exhibition of cooking by electricity at the Food
Show in the Lyric.
Also in 1905, Ignace Jan Paderewski gave
his third Baltimore performance. Enrico Caruso came to the Lyric
with the Metropolitan Opera Company's production of "Marta."
Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and her party came from Washington to
hear the celebrated tenor.
The list of speakers who have taken the
spotlight in the Lyric is a chapter in American history. It
includes William Jennings Bryan, Roald Amundsen, Richard E.
Byrd, Charles A. Lindbergh, Calvin E. Coolidge, Amelia Earhart,
Clarence Darrow, Will Rogers, and Herbert Hoover. Among the
great names... the world-famed performers... there appear little
known personages out of the past. Gus Schoenlein (known as Americus)
wrestled with George Hackenschmit, the world's champion, in
the Lyric late in 1906.
In 1908, Mr. Frederick Gottlieb offered
the Lyric for sale to the city for the new Polytechnic Institute.
(The offer was not accepted.)
Two years after its opening, Mr. Kilpatrick
rode his two-wheeler bike down a flight of 150 steps as part
of a bike festival. On summer evenings, the theater was decorated
in beer garden fashion and polkas filled the air. General William
Booth and Aimee Semple McPherson found converts in Lyric audiences,
as did Col. Robert Ingersoll who lectured on "How to Reform
Mankind" in 1898.
Other great artists were to testify the
to the auditorium's superb acoustics. Conducters such as Pierre
Monteux, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Leopold
Stokowski, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Erich Leinsdorf have complimented
the exceptional sound qualities. Leopold Stokowski said, "May
I tell you that I and my orchestra enjoy playing to the audience
in this hall more than to any audience in this country." Sir
Thomas Beecham rated it first in America.
Todays acoustical experts rank the Lyric
as one of the best acoustical auditoriums in the world. Leo
L. Beranek, John Wiley and Sons, in his book "Music, Acoustics,
and Architecture," writes:
"The Lyric Theater has a clear, warm,
intimate sound with good brilliance. The hall is reasonably
uniform acoustically, and orchestral music played in it is adequately
Two Music critics who know the Lyric
Theater well find the sound very clear and beautiful and at
the right loudness. For opera, because of its smaller size,
they believe it to be superior to Metropolitan Opera House in
The Lyric Theater is one of the better
halls in our country. Let us hope that time will preserve it
from the unceasing demand for new buildings with ever-larger
Thomas D. Perry, manager of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra sums it up well with this statement, "I've
always been so great an admirer of the Lyric Theater, which
it seems to me is one of the few halls in this country not only
with good sound, but with a certain style and atmosphere and
a tradition, if you will, that I hope we can help preserve."
Hypnotists, hindu fakirs, and "Rasslers,"
the Lyric has seen them all. But the glory of the Lyric has
always been music... the scores of musical greats, the world's
great orchestras, opera companies, soloists, ballet stars and
conductors... taking advantage of its world-renowned acoustics.
Over the years, many showcased events
have been hosted at the Lyric (For a list of the stars to have
appeared at the Lyric, click on entertainment). Operas and Broadway
plays and musicals are among a long list of featured events
at the Lyric. Comedians, magicians, motivational speakers, graduations,
and even hypnotists have at one time or another performed at
The Lyric's first 100 years of existence
has included an array of highs and lows. In 1920, for instance,
a group of Marylanders raised $250,000 to prevent the theatre
from becoming an auto dealership. In the 1960's, Mayor Thomas
D'Allesandro recommended it to be demolished because it had
become extremely rundown. Then in 1982, the Lyric lost its primary
tenant, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Yet on October 31, 1994, the Lyric Opera
House reached its 100th anniversary, a milestone that cultural
establishments rarely achieve. What makes the Lyric different
than other theatres is that it changes with the times. An example
of this is evident in 1982 with the move of the Baltimore Symphony
Orchestra from the Lyric to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Without
the Symphony, the Lyric was left a large hole in its schedule.
The hole was plugged with additional operas (performed by the
Baltimore Opera Company), Broadway musicals and plays, and touring
entertainers. Broadway productions like "Showboat", "Evita",
"Cats" and "The King and I" along with the magic of David Copperfield,
the comedy of Jackie Mason, are just some of the events that
filled the Lyric's 2,564 seats almost every night.
When the Symphony left in 1982, the Lyric
became a more viable facility for a variety of shows. By the
early 1990's, the Lyric had a new identity - the Baltimore home
of Broadway and opera. During the 1993-1994 season, 200 dates
were utilized for the first time. The Lyric has also undergone
several renovations and expansions. After a $14 million renovation
that began in 1979, the Lyric reopened in 1982 as a major multipurpose
venue, specializing in grand opera and Broadway style shows.
A new entrance, lobby, seating arrangement, boiler room and
backstage facilities were completed by the end of the decade.
In 1997, a three story building was constructed that houses
new stage level dressing rooms, a rehearsal room, new ticket
offices, and administrative offices for the Baltimore Opera
Company and the Lyric.
The acoustics of the Lyric are world-renowned,
and conductors and performers alike have attested to this fact
from the beginning. Indeed, it is because of these unique acoustical
qualities that so many people, over the years, were anxious
to renovate the Lyric.
The Lyric's auditorium was registered
on the National Register of Historical Places in 1986. The exterior
of the facility, however, remains free so modernization can
continue without restrictions. Not only is the theatre a cultural
and architectural landmark, it is a world landmark when judged
in terms of its sound. Baltimore¹s Lyric Opera House has a steady
stream of great moments since 1894 and will continue to be the
cultural and entertainment capital of the state of Maryland.
LATE 1970'S TO APPEAR AT THE LYRIC
Ella Fitzgerald - April 1978
Patti LaBelle - April 1980*
George Carlin - April 29, 1983
Jackie Mason - March 30, 1985
David Coperfield - January 1985*
Whitney Houston - October 11, 1985
Sam Kinison - June 5, 1987
Bonnie Rait - June 6, 1988
Stephanie Mills - March 2, 1990
Bad English - December 13, 1989
Robert Townsend - May 12, 1991
Peabo Bryson - December 28, 1991
Natalie Cole - June 6, 1992
Mary Chapin Carpenter - February 6, 1993
Jay Leno - June 10, 1995
Many Patinkin - February 23, 1996*
Tori Amos - October 1, 1996
Jamie Fox - February 12, 1998
Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner - June 20, 1998
*have appeared multiple times
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