A healthy, strong community is like a tapestry with many threads that create a vibrant, cohesive whole. Some of the most important threads in any community are the organizations that create and promote the arts. Being a force for positive change is important to Mascoma Bank, and supporting organizations that bring the arts to our communities is part of that.
The Claremont Opera House was erected in 1897 and within a decade had become the entertainment center for the area. The manager of the Opera House, Harry Eaton, filled the House’s calendar with musicals, plays, single night acts by touring companies, vaudeville minstrel shows, and eventually films. Famous performers came, such as John Philip Sousa who performed at the Opera House three times, including a performance of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” prior to its performance in Symphony Hall in Boston.
Built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style for $62,000, the Opera House was constructed with local materials, including a foundation of Green Mountain rock, a base of Connecticut River brownstone from Springfield, Massachusetts, and 1 million Lebanon bricks. But by the early 1960s, the Opera House had fallen into disuse and had to close its doors in 1963. The city was forced to contemplate removing the auditorium and turning this once flourishing center for the arts into city offices.
But thanks to the efforts of locals who didn’t want to see the historic building forsaken from its original purpose, a Restoration Committee was formed and through their efforts, the Opera House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. With federal grant money, the city was able to restore the interior, save the auditorium, and create the municipal complex that is part of the Claremont Opera House today. The interior of the building, with its frescoed ceiling, decorative wall frieze, and intricate plasterwork highlighted with gold foil along the proscenium arch, is quite beautiful. The auditorium also features a serpentine balcony and original seating.
The present-day mission of the Opera House is to sponsor a wide variety of events in music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts in order to develop community understanding of the arts, and to educate as well as entertain. Each season sees a variety of shows, such as live music from Wood’s Tea Company and tribute shows for acts like Foreigner, the Doobie Brothers, and Van Morrison.
As an important part of their mission to educate, the Opera House hosts about 20 shows a year for schools. The shows bring school groups from all over the state, and are entertaining and fun. They also usually have some kind of moral or lesson. This season, the show Freedom Songs follows the story of the role music played in the history of Black Americans, from ragtime and jazz to R&B and more.
The Opera House also is open as a rental for benefits, fundraisers, receptions, seminars, board meetings, weddings, and more. Each season’s calendar has a blend of shows and rentals. But it’s a balancing act—rentals offer less risk than season shows but also less opportunity to generate more funds. And the reality is that ticket sales do not cover the operating costs of the House. Many people do not realize the costs involved in bringing in popular, high-demand shows. “Sometimes the math just doesn’t work,” says Louanne Lewit, Executive Director of the Claremont Opera House. “We would like to work toward having some larger productions, but that is going to take some extra sponsorship.”
Sponsorship and donations are an important part of the House’s operations. Maintaining a 122-year-old building is a challenge! An ongoing project has been the reupholstering of 310 of the 519 seats. Some of the seats’ fabric had deteriorated enough to expose the interior foam. This project could not have been accomplished without donations, including one from Mascoma Bank that enabled 100 seats on the orchestra level to be reupholstered. Future fundraising is planned to reupholster the remaining seats, bring in larger shows, install a retractable movie screen, and improve the stage lighting.
“We are here because of the community and we are so thankful to institutions like Mascoma for helping to support the opera house and make it available for all of our events,” says Louanne. “We are committed to keeping the opera house open for the community.”
We at Mascoma Bank are thrilled to be a part of the good work being done by nonprofit organizations like the Claremont Opera House and invite you to join us in supporting groups that make our communities healthier and happier. Visit the Claremont Opera House donations page for more information.