August 6, 2014

Opera houses mix history, architecture, entertainment

A century ago, opera houses majestically stood as symbols of community pride in South Carolina. They still stand today

A century ago, opera houses majestically stood as symbols of community pride in South Carolina towns and cities.

A century later, when local sports complexes more accurately reflect civic pride, many of the opera houses survive only on old postcards. Some burned down; others were torn down to make way for modern buildings. But those that remain tell a lot about their communities and their commitment to preserving their past.

Opera houses in Abbeville (100 Court Square), Chester (100 West End St.), Newberry (1201 McKibben St.) and Sumter (21 North Main St.) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“Typically, with the courthouse and the churches, they were the largest and most imposing structures in the town,” said architecture historian John Bryan of the University of South Carolina. “They were an expression of civic pride. They were the football stadiums of their time.”

The Abbeville, Newberry and Sumter opera houses are still used for performances. Attend a concert or play at one of them, and the venue is part of the show. August is a slow period at the usually busy Newberry Opera House. The show season there hits its stride in September. Go to newberryoperahouse.com for the schedule.

This month at the Abbeville Opera House, the musical “Keep On The Sunny Side,” celebrating the life of the Carter Family, will be performed each Friday and Saturday night. Call (864) 366-2157 for details.

The Sumter Opera House’s summer movie series ends Friday with a 7 p.m. showing of “Divergent.”

Chester’s opera house has been converted into government offices, but you can poke your head inside and look around the lobby and expansive halls during working hours.

Joey Holleman

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