SINGAPORE - Rules of etiquette were broken over the weekend at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
Inside Singapore's oldest performing arts centre, audiences snapped pictures and recorded videos as musicians, dancers and actors played to crowds.
Such behaviour is normally frowned upon, but for one weekend, it was all excused.
It was the first time the iconic performance venue opened its doors to the public following a four-year refurbishment and who could blame visitors for being eager to capture the 152-year-old monument in its restored splendour.
Elaborate designs on pillars in the concert hall are now clearly visible, the redesigned theatre boasts a more intimate space and acoustics in both spaces are state-of-the-art.
The venue was inaugurated last Tuesday in a by-invite performance at the concert hall featuring the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The event was graced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and attended by members of the arts and culture community.
To showcase the revamp to the public, guided tours and free performances by more than 10 home-grown theatre, dance and music groups were held last Saturday and yesterday. The open house had drawn 30,000 visitors by 3pm yesterday, attracting everyone, from the curious to arts lovers.
Indeed, so keen was the public to welcome back the refurbished building that a queue to enter it formed last Saturday before doors opened at 10am.
Once inside, visitors strode on shiny marble floors and plush carpets, sank into new theatre and concert seats with more legroom, and indulged in the aural pleasure of the venue's improved acoustics.
Among the shows staged, a solo performance by organist Margaret Chen on the Klais Organ and a family-friendly drama by I Theatre played to near capacity crowds in the 673-seat concert hall and 614-seat theatre respectively.
Audiences were similarly dazzled by performances from the Teochew opera group Nam Hwa Opera, string chamber group T'ang Quartet and Indian dance company Apsaras Arts.
Visitors also quickly filled up tours conducted by volunteer guides with the National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and Monuments, who pointed out the changes and preservation efforts.
Among the most striking features of the $158-million refurbishment is a restored passageway between the theatre and concert hall, which has been turned into an atrium. The skylight that stretches over the walkway illuminates the space and offers a view of the grand clock tower.
Another stand-out feature is a new cantilevered box on the second floor of the theatre, which resembles a suspended Rubik's cube and can be used to hold public programmes.
Retired civil servant George Tan, 67, who attended the open house, says: "The atrium is very impressive. The moment you step in, your eyes are drawn up and you are wowed."
Another visitor, courier business owner Wahab Marican, 60, was similarly awed by the refurbished space. He says: "After it closed for renovation, I would, whenever I drove by, glance up at the clock tower and look forward to the building's re-opening. Coming back now has been a walk down memory lane. I am remembering the concerts I used to attend here."
The open house was also nostalgic for Mrs Eunice Mehta, 33, who used to perform with choral groups in the concert hall. The recruitment consultant says: "It is like coming home. The place looks fantastic, it sounds good and it even smells clean."
For housewife Catherine Lee, 41, her visit last Saturday with her husband and two children was the first time she had set foot in the theatre and concert hall. She says: "The free performances are wonderful and I hope there are more of them to come. They will help to nurture a love for arts in the younger generation."
This article was first published on July 22, 2014.
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