Ōamaru Opera House – Beauty from the Inside Out

Published on 14 February 2023


Ōamaru Opera House is an iconic piece of Waitaki architecture and is receiving some upgrades from the inside out to maintain this valuable piece of local history.

Officially opened 116 years ago in 1907, the building is largely in its original condition. It was previously restored in 2009 and in 2010 won the Southern Architecture Awards and the 2011 NZIA Heritage Award for Heritage Conservation.

Waitaki District Council Property Manager, Grant Rhodes said, “The Ōamaru Opera House is a significant piece of not just Waitaki architecture, but national architecture. Maintaining this beautiful building is so important both locally and on a national scale.”

Before the “beautification” works could commence, Waitaki District Council’s Property Team needed to conduct some structural repairs to ensure the integrity of the timber structure supporting the dome. This also included the removal of hundreds of kilograms of pigeon poo and debris from the ceiling, engineering, and designing a catwalk and increasing timber support within the ceiling area.

Given the specialist nature of the work required, Carolina Izzo was appointed Conservator after being recommended by the late Neil Cox who was CEO of the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch. Neil Cox had commissioned Carolina for the restoration of the Isaac Theatre after the Canterbury earthquakes. Carolina was also involved with the renovation of Forrester Gallery’s ornate main gallery ceiling a few years ago.

Ōamaru Opera House Director Frances McElhinney said, “We’re thrilled to have Carolina Izzo and her team working on the interior of the dome. This work includes restoring the dome to the original colours and gold leaf work. Carolina’s wealth of experience and skill is critical to the retaining the beauty of the Ōamaru Opera House.”

In November 2019 Carolina and one of her staff assessed the condition of the dome to ascertain what would be required to repair and restore it. Throughout the last few years repair work has been taking place and we are now finally completing the last stage of the dome restoration project.

Scaffolding went up in the interior the Opera House in December with Carolina and the Studio Carolina Izzo team commencing work in early January 2023. In February, scaffolding was erected on the south side of Oāmaru Opera House for the beginning of the exterior maintenance works.

Projects and Assets Officer, Toby Armour said, “It is difficult to see, but the southeast exterior side of the Ōamaru Opera House has a coating applied, the rest of the Opera House is raw Ōamaru stone. It is time for some maintenance to the coating in this area which helps seal up and protect the stone.”

Double-pivot sash windows also needs to be removed and repaired which will be done in house after Waitaki District Council purchased a second-hand specialist combination saw. Toby Armour continued, “The irony of doing heritage work with heritage gear is not lost on us. We love to recycle and reduce where we can and it’s fantastic to apply this to the tools we use too.”

Waitaki Mayor, Gary Kircher said, “Heritage is hugely important to the Waitaki Community, and we want to honour that at one of our most important buildings in the district. I cannot wait to see the final outcome and look forward to attending more wonderful events at the Ōamaru Opera House.”


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