The theater whose name says it all: grand in design, grand in reputation

Tan Weiyun
Since its opening in 1998, the downtown landmark has thrilled audiences with illustrious performing arts.
Tan Weiyun

Editor’s note:

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Shanghai. Once dubbed "the Paris of the East,” the city has evolved into a fusion of multiculturalism. Along the way, Shanghai has accumulated a repository of stories about the people and events that have shaped its history. Five areas of the city occupy pride of place in that journey: People’s Square, Jing’an Temple, Xujiahui, Lujiazui and Xintiandi. This series, a collaboration with Shanghai Local Chronicles Library, visits them all to follow in the footsteps of time.

Shanghai Grand Theater is a befitting name for a distinctive architectural landmark in the city’s heart and a stately tribute to China’s first foray into the design of modern performance venues.

Designed by French architect Jean-Marie Charpentier in conjunction with the East China Architectural Design and Research Institute, the theater opened in August 1998 as an international venue for opera, dance, symphonies and drama.

Sitting on a 2-hectare site, the theater is showcased by shear frame walls and spatial steel trusses. Its six above-ground levels stand 40 meters high, and its Chinese pavilion design features a roof with upward-curving sides like a white arc embracing the sky. The architecture symbolizes the Chinese concept of “heaven is round; earth is square.”

By day, the theater’s appearance is marked by transparent walls and rhythmic lines, while at night, it transforms into a dazzling palace of light and water, harmoniously blending with the surrounding People’s Square.

The theater whose name says it all: grand in design, grand in reputation
Ti Gong

Shanghai Grand Theater looks like a dazzling palace of light and water at night.

Atop the theater, the grand arc-shaped roof crowns an open-air concert hall, where stage size and height can be adjusted. A glass cover is deployed in the event of rain.

Flanking the theater’s foundational stage, eight cascading waterfalls flow with continuous streams that evoke tender music. Viewed from above, the white roof, blue waters and surrounding greenery create a setting of tranquil beauty against the bustling backdrop of Shanghai.

The interior houses three theaters, a ticket center, rehearsal rooms, VIP lounges, exhibition halls and a café.

From the southern plaza, visitors are welcomed into the grand foyer, which covers nearly 2,000 square meters and soars to 18 meters across four levels. Either side of this elegant space is adorned with staircases.

Inside, the dominant white color scheme resonates with purity, creating a seamless harmony that encapsulates the theater’s modern and pristine esthetic.

The 800-square-meter main stage accommodates a wide array of large-scale performances. Its modular design allows the stage to be divided into eight sections, which can rise from a depth of 8 meters to standard stage level or be transformed into steps or slopes as required by individual performances. To facilitate scenery movement, tracks and pipelines are installed on either side of the stage, while the back of the stage features a revolving turntable.

The theater whose name says it all: grand in design, grand in reputation
Ti Gong

The main theater accommodates a wide array of large-scale performances.

To afford audience comfort, the theater created a seat-based ventilation system. Beneath each seat, small air outlets provide cool or warm air before it circulates back into the hall.

The control of the entire stage mechanism is managed digitally, ensuring that both performers and audience members are enveloped in an environment marrying tradition with cutting-edge technology.

Since its opening, Shanghai Grand Theater has hosted an impressive roster of world-class performing groups and renowned artists from both China and abroad.

Among the acclaimed guest performers have been the three tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras — the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Opera House, Paris National Opera, Bolshoi Theater and Mariinsky Theater.

Shanghai Grand Theater has provided the city’s audiences with countless unforgettable performances over the years, cementing the theater’s enduring reputation as a premier venue for the best of the performing arts.

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