Art Notes: Lebanon Opera House, Chandler Music Hall reopen following renovations

Pamela Ely tunes the Steinway B piano at the Lebanon Opera House after it had been in storage during the space's renovation on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. After a five-month closure, the opera house will have a housewarming party on Feb. 7 and the first show will be the silent film

Pamela Ely tunes the Steinway B piano at the Lebanon Opera House after it had been in storage during the space's renovation on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. After a five-month closure, the opera house will have a housewarming party on Feb. 7 and the first show will be the silent film "The Gold Rush" on Feb. 8. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

The Lebanon Opera House has new merchandise in conjunction with the completion of their renovation. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The Lebanon Opera House has new merchandise in conjunction with the completion of their renovation. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rich Adams, the building manager of Lebanon City Hall where the Lebanon Opera House resides, walks through the newly-renovated lobby of the opera house on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Rich Adams, the building manager of Lebanon City Hall where the Lebanon Opera House resides, walks through the newly-renovated lobby of the opera house on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News – Jennifer Hauck

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-31-2024 9:46 PM

Modified: 02-03-2024 5:14 PM


A pair of the most venerable and active Upper Valley performance venues, Lebanon Opera House and Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall, are reopening in the next week after renovations.

The opera house, which will reopen with a refreshed lobby and new seats and lighting, among other improvements, has been closed since mid-August. An open house is planned for 4:30 to 6 on Wednesday evening, with music from DJ Sean, a cash bar from Salt hill Pub and dancing under the new lights on the opera house stage after 6.

“It’s pretty amazing to see what the space looks like,” Joe Clifford, the opera house’s executive director, said in a phone interview.

The opera house is the same, in most respects, as it was when it opened in 1924, but the renovation will make it seem “new and fresh” to patrons, Clifford said.

“I’m curious to see how people engage with the space,” he said.

The construction work was budgeted at $3.1 million and is on time and within budget, Clifford said. The nonprofit that leases the opera house from the city of Lebanon is raising all of the construction funding through private grants and donations. About $3.8 million of the $4.2 million goal has been raised so far, Clifford said. The remaining money left to raise will pay for sound equipment the opera house can use for community events around the city.

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The restoration was done in advance of, and to celebrate, the opera house’s centennial. The then-town of Lebanon dedicated the opera house Oct. 29, 1924. While the celebration of the centennial starts Wednesday with the open house, Clifford is still programming what he expects will be a big season for 2024-25, including a birthday party in October.

Until then, the winter and spring will include a screening of the Charlie Chaplin classic “The Gold Rush,” with live piano accompaniment by Bob Merrill (Feb. 8), comedy performances, including Mike McDonald’s Comedy Extravaganza (Feb. 9), the Capitol Fools (March 9) and Bob Marley (March 23), three shows from Recycled Percussion (Feb. 10 and 11), a performance by celebrated drag performer and Center for Cartoon Studies graduate Sasha Velour (March 4) and the return of Red Baraat, a Brooklyn world music ensemble that played the 2021 Nexus Festival (March 16).

Clifford is particularly looking forward to an early-April residency by the String Queens, a string trio pushing the boundaries of classical music. The residency includes workshops and performances with the Upper Valley Music Center.

Chandler’s reopening includes both a partnership with a community organization and a boundary-pushing classical performance. Upper Valley Baroque will perform Handel’s “Water Music” on Feb. 10, and on Feb. 11, Chandler will present CelloGayageum, an ensemble that mixes Western classical music with the instrumentation of traditional Korean music. The partnership is with Vermont Public, which will hold an installment of its “Homegoings” series, hosted by Randolph native Myra Flynn, on Feb. 17.

Like Lebanon Opera House, the Chandler did a big renovation and expansion for its centennial, in 2007. But that project didn’t include repainting the music hall, which hadn’t been done since the 1990s, said Chloe Powell, who’s celebrating her first year as Chandler’s executive director. The plan to repair the music hall’s plasterwork, repaint it and carry out other repairs, including a replacement of the stage floor, was underway before she took the Chandler job. All told, the work is expected to cost around $175,000, all of it coming from grants and donations, including funding from the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Preservation Trust.

“I knew taking on the job that it was another beast having an old historic building to take care of,” said Powell, who’d been a booking agent for performers before starting at the Chandler last February.

The improvements also include a new sound system and curtains, and Lebanon Opera House donated some of its lights, Powell said.

Powell and the Chandler’s board are working to put the organization on firmer footing. Over the past decade, the Chandler has had a half-dozen directors after the departure of longtime leader Becky McMeekin. Unlike Lebanon Opera House, with its larger community and donor base, the Chandler operates on thinner margins. In Powell, it has a new young director with local ties. The renovations look like the start of bigger things.

‘Selections’ in Newport

The Newport Library Arts Center opens its yearly “Selections” show, which features artists whose work was chosen from the annual Juried Regional Show, with a reception Friday evening from 5 to 7. The show is on view through March 14.

Strings in Sharon

The Vermont Mandolin Trio performs Saturday night at 7 at Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door; children under 12 get in free. Go to sevenstarsarts.org.

First Friday in WRJ

Among the many art shows opening or on display Friday night in White River Junction is a show of paintings by White River Junction artist Bradley William Mehr at the Main Street Museum. A reception is planned for Friday evening, and the show is on view through March 30.

Improvisational movement

Also in White River Junction, dancer and choreographer Rachel Bernsen is bringing together six artists (herself, dancer Ellen Smith Ahern, vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, cellist Tomeka Reid, multi-instrumentalist Taylor Ho Bynum and visual artist Lindsay Packer) for a performance she’s calling “Novel Formats: A Dialogue (number one).” Slated for 5:30 Saturday evening at JAM (Junction Arts & Media), the show brings the artists together in the service of, in Bernsen’s words, “enacting improvised scores which traverse the realms of sonic space, ephemeral form and luminous color.” Free and open to the public.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

 CORRECTION: Rachel Bernsen's dance performance, “Novel Formats: A Dialogue (number one)," will take place Saturday evening at JAM (Junction Arts & Media). The name of the venue was incorrect in a previous version of this column.