The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is perfectly at home at the restored Orpheum — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
In the wake of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it seems that just about every conversation in the city of New Orleans contains the three R words: rebirth, rebuilding and resilience. The good news for both locals and visitors is that, in most instances, these words have real heft: they aren’t simply being trotted out for effect.
That’s especially true with the reopening of the gorgeous Orpheum Theater in the CBD, which debuts its 2015-2016 season on Sept. 17 with a performance by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
A full 10 years after it was wrecked by the flood, this historic 1918 concert hall is truly being reborn.
You might even say that the Orpheum has been restored beyond its original luster by developers Roland and Mary von Kurnatowski, who bought the venue for $1.5 million in February 2014 with business partner Dr. Eric George.
The von Kurnatowskis – who also own music venue Tipitina's and founded the Tipitina's Foundation – are avid preservationists, a passion that was taken to literal lofty heights at the 1540-seat Orpheum, considered by many to be the Carnegie Hall of the South.
Some $13 million was spent to restore the Beaux Arts-style building, which has been everything from a vaudeville and burlesque house to a movie theater over the years.
The restored Orpheum is beautiful on every scale — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
The theater’s stunning beauty is jaw dropping. The elaborate interior – with its intricate plasterwork and hand-painted gilding – is a replica of the original, thanks to Mary von Kurnatowski’s rabid attention to detail and a crackerjack army of gifted contractors led by husband and wife team Brett and Janice Olivi.
Some of the restoration is not as obvious to the casual observer, like the gleaming sprung hardwood floor critical to the building’s stellar acoustics.
And there are high-tech improvements in the picture, too, including an adjustable main floor that will reconfigure as needed for special events. Additional investment in film and audio, double the number of bathrooms, all new seating and one extra bar (Now there are six all total.) are a few of the other changes.
There's literally not a bad seat in the house, with the theater’s pillar-free vertical design revealing a clear stage view at every level.
“We knew people who thought we could never pull this off with the time frame we had,” says Mary, a force of nature if there ever was one. “There were a lot of times when I was up high on the lift, painting and painting, when I was talking to God about that. Or else it was Brett. Either way, we got it done.”