Archives » May 31st, 2003

May 31, 2003

Piper’s Opera House

I had never been inside Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City before tonight. Mr. Piper built two theaters before this one; both of them burned to the ground. The third time turned out to be the charm, since this one has now been standing for over a hundred years. Piper’s was the social hub of Virginia City in its day, seeing all the best actors of the age trod across its stage. Like so many historic buildings, it was neglected for years, and now it’s being fixed up through donations. It looks rather barn-like on the outside, but like most things it’s the inside that counts.

We went there for a rehearsal for Keirra’s ballet class. Saturday night is the big show, again at the Opera House. The building certainly is ratty, and when I ventured up to the balcony and the upper boxes I completely expected to fall right through the floor. I survived, though, and I came away full of wonder with what this theater must have been like during its day. Even now the splendor is still there, if perhaps hidden under a coat of tarnish. It will take more than a few decades of decay to bring this building down. It still puts on its best face for the public, and everywhere there are signs of renovation work being done. It will rise again.

I took the above picture from the balcony. I had to do some work to brighten the image, and it lost a little something along the way. Maybe if I was better with my photo tools I could bring out more of the charm of the theater. I surprised myself, though, by hitting some obscure filter and reworking the picture into this:

Now that’s more like it. You could imagine that being an oil painting or etched in leather, unearthed during an excavation of the basement where it had sat for a hundred years. The true atmosphere of Piper’s will always be the smell of cigars and brandy as the people who got rich off the mines would file in for a night of fine entertainment. That atmosphere is suffused into the woodwork. Now the stage is full of preteen girls hopping around in pink bunny outfits as their uncles take digital pictures of the place. The world may swirl and change around it, but the Opera House remains the same.

And as the visage of Shakespeare peers down from the ceiling, and Mom and kids pile into the minivan and drive down the mountain, I know that lurking, deep within the shadows, are the dim spirits of a past age, waiting patiently for the lights to go down so they can trod across the stage once more. They say that late at night, when you’re wandering the cold streets all alone, you can hear a hollow voice floating on the air, reciting Hamlet’s third soliloquy. Three guesses where it’s coming from.