We were surprised and disappointed at the comparison of the Lexington Opera House to the proposed restoration of the old Fayette County Courthouse in a June 8 op-ed.
Regardless of the decisions about the future of the courthouse, the record should be set straight about the restoration and utilization of the Opera House.
A performing-arts facility was not included in the original plans for the Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena. However through an initiative by the original Lexington Center Board in collaboration with the newly created Opera House Fund, the historic theater was purchased.
In 1976, private and public funds were used to restore an opera house which was first built in 1886. An effort was made to preserve the important architectural details, including the exterior façade and the ornate plaster details, of this historic landmark. The seating capacity of more than 900 has been reconfigured several times to improve patron comfort, but has always been determined by the size of the original structure.
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The intended use of the Opera House was clearly articulated from the outset: to restore the venue to its original grandeur and to provide a spectacular, authentic live performance venue for the community.
With this in mind, an endowment funded with private contributions was established to subsidize the use of the Opera House by both local and touring groups. Over the past 39 years, the Opera House Fund has contributed more than $11.6 million to subsidize use of the facility and support other arts initiatives in the community.
Occasional operating subsidies are generally low and are borne by the larger operating revenues of Lexington Center and Rupp Arena, not the Urban County Council's General Fund.
The op-ed stated that the Opera House has "removed the underprivileged from attendance." That is simply not true. Opera House performances and audiences are culturally, ethnically and socio-economically diverse.
Ticket prices, which are set by the performing groups, are often modest and sometimes free. Discounted rates are offered by many productions for school-day performances.
For many years, the Opera House Fund has encouraged Broadway Live and Variety Live season ticket holders to make tickets available at no charge to low-income young adults and children through the Broadway Buddies program. Spotlight seats are deeply discounted and available at every Broadway Live performance.
Through the efforts of the Opera House Fund and Lexington Center Corp., this landmark theater continues to serve as a premiere venue for performing arts in our community. It welcomes an average of 80,000 patrons per year for more than 160 performances. Additionally, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of a handful of theaters in the country built before 1900 that is still being used to present live performances.
As representatives of the management team that operates the theater, and with gratitude for the vision of the Opera House Fund, we are proud that the Opera House continues its history of service to our community.