- Ed Richter Staff Writer
It’s been a long time coming, but after six years, the Sorg Opera House will hold its first concert this weekend.
“Celebrate the Sorg” will feature the Butler Philharmonic, a 60-piece regional orchestra, at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Chuck Miller, board president of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG), said the event is a soft reopening of the 126-year-old theater at 63 S. Main St. in downtown Middletown. The organization has held some open houses during the past couple years, but Sunday will mark the Sorg’s first public performance.
“It’s pretty darn exciting,” Miller said. “Once you hear the sound, you’re going to be excited.”
Sunday’s performance will feature Music Director Paul John Stanbery leading the orchestra through works by George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and more. Miller said the concert will also feature vocal selections by opera soprano Jessica Rivera and Thomas Dreeze, the Cincinnati Opera’s baritone.
Miller said some work may be in progress and more work remains, the concert offers guests an opportunity to hear the acoustics as designed along with great sight lines of the stage. He said the effort to bring the iconic theater to its current state included: new entry doors; removal of the old seats and drop ceiling; floor prep; Cincinnati Music Hall seat installation; balcony railing enhancement; new fire escape doors; major plumbing repairs leading to patron restroom renovations; roof repairs; box seat restorations; installation of the theater curtain; sprinkler system repairs; and ongoing patching, priming and painting.
“The toughest battle in reaching this point was getting the building into compliance to obtain an occupancy permit,” he said. “It’s all been interesting and our skills have been challenged.”
He said the Sorg has seating capacity of 737 people on the first floor. However, Miller said that number will increase to 1,003 once the two balconies are renovated in about a year if things go well.
Miller described the Sorg as being “timeless” similar to a restored classic car.
“I don’t think it changes much but it will always have it’s place in time,” he said.
Miller said for the past three years, the Sorg organization has been fundraising as well as getting the building up to code standards thanks to the financial and in-kind generosity of many donors as well as the dozens of volunteers who have been working on the project. He said the donation of seats from Music Hall “gave us a reason to keep going.”
Bob Melloh, who remembers the Sorg in its heyday when he was a young child, called the Music Hall “a game changer.” Melloh said that provided the motivation to begin interior painting.
“I never dreamed that I would be doing this,” he said. “I think fundraising will improve after the concert.”
“We owe a debt to our volunteers, the city, funding organizations and other patrons as we had some near catastrophes and setbacks.” Miller said.
The next big project will be the installation of the new HVAC system as the building does not have heat, Miller said. SORG already has the equipment donated but they will need to pay the installation costs, he said.
He said SORG is looking at having very basic shows, including a jazz orchestra performance on Oct. 21, to continue to increase awareness and operational revenue for the project.
“There’s a lot of things going on in Middletown,” Miller said. “I think this place has a lot of potential.”