There Is A Lot Of Grand Out There

My day job is Executive Director of The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.  Around the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, it was vogue to name theaters as Grand Opera Houses, even if they didn’t host opera concerts. As far as we know, the was never any fully mounted opera in my venue, for example.

However, at least once a week we get a call for tickets, refunds or a staff person at a Grand Opera House in some other part of the country. About 80% of the time it is for the one in Wilmington, DE but last week it was for one in Colorado. It seems like there is one in just about every state based on the calls we get. Not long ago, a government entity in Belfast, Ireland actually tagged us in a social media post about job openings in the Belfast Grand Opera House. (I felt that was a little embarrassing since their FB tag is GOHBelfast and ours is grandoperahousemacon.)

Any way, earlier this week I saw a Twitter conversation about grand operas in Shanghai which seems to promise even greater confusion.

Opera has a different performance style, history and association in China than in the U.S. and Europe so there are likely specific motivations for each of the organizations and venues mentioned to employ the term.

Thinking perhaps the official names of some of these entities in hanzi might differ enough that native speakers wouldn’t be confused, I did some research and it seems that the distinction is exactly the same as in English. In fact the architects for the Shanghai Grand Opera House use the same hanzi as the performance company, Shanghai Opera House: 上海歌剧院. It made me wonder if the architects made a mistake since Chinese language news sites referred to the venue planned for completion in 2023 as 上海大歌剧院。 If you aren’t seeing a difference, there isn’t much of one. Just as in English the only difference is the inclusion of the word “Grand.”

In any case, there will be some work to do establishing a clear identity for each of these entities.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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