Sterling Opera House

106 Elizabeth Street,
Derby, CT 06418

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Sterling Opera House

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Architects: H.E. Ficken

Styles: Italian Renaissance

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Sterling Opera House

From the Electronic Valley page: The Opera House is unusual for its Italian Victorian architectural treatment in a public building. The design balances symmetrical and asymmetrical effects: the asymmetrical tower is balanced by the window treatment. The house was built in 1889 to seat 1,250, and possesses an excellent stage.

The theater opened on April 2, 1889 and remained in use until 1945. Two lower levels served as a City Hall and Police Station until 1965.

Designer H.E. Ficken, one of the creators of Carnegie Hall, combined several architectural styles in the Sterling. The exterior and roof-top and the interior walls and doorways are Italianate Victorian and display the final evolution of the Italian Baroque opera house. The interior seating plan was influenced by German composer Richard Wagner’s conception of a triangle seating arrangement, with all seats enjoying an unobstructed view of the stage. No box seats were used, but two “piano boxes” were located on either side of the stage to accommodate two Sterling Pianos.

A proscenium arch frames the 60-by-34-foot stage. Below are 10 dressing rooms. The auditorium boasts an orchestra pit, two gracefully sweeping balconies and fine examples of bottle glass, keystone arches and wrought iron work.

Acoustically, the Sterling Opera House has no equal. Even a whisper can be heard clearly from all areas of the auditorium.

Contributed by Roger Katz

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allairejqs on September 25, 2009 at 5:23 am

Sterling Opera House awaits new cupola
Written by Susan Hunter
Thursday, 17 September 2009 13:06

Derby Mayor Tony Staffieri admires the newly fabricated dome and cupola that will be installed atop the Sterling Opera House.(Submitted photo)
DERBY â€" A newly fabricated main cupola for the Sterling Opera House was delivered Thursday to a storage facility in Beacon Falls.

The cupola will be installed on the opera house roof once funding is in place to build a cupola foundation, said Derby Economic Development Director Sheila O’Malley. Its installation will mark the completion of exterior renovation work on the building.

State funding paid for fabrication of the cupola, which cost $70,000, O’Malley said.

Derby Mayor Tony Staffieri said he’s pleased with the work Campbellsville Industries has done on the cupola for the 120-year-old opera house. The Kentucky-based company has replicated the cupola to look like the original one, and has made it out of weather-resistant materials. The dome is made of copper sheathing.

“Hopefully, the cupola will last for 100 or 200 years,” he said. “It’s going to be a beacon to the whole Valley.”

City officials are working to secure funding for the interior renovation of the opera house. So far, they’ve received $150,000 from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office, $22,500 from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and $7,000 from the Katherine Matthies Foundation.

O’Malley has applied for $10 million in federal stimulus funds, Staffieri said, or a donation from a wealthy benefactor would be appreciated.

The next objective is to create a refurbished meeting room in the building’s interior, where the former aldermanic chambers were located from 1945 to 1965.

After its heyday as a theater, the opera house served as City Hall, but for the past 44 years has stood vacant opposite the city Green.

A new center cupola was installed on the Opera House in April 2008.

allairejqs on October 28, 2009 at 5:39 am

Sterling Opera House rehab gets more funding
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, Naugatuck Valley Bureau Chief

DERBY â€" The city is getting more grant money to use for designing the interior of the Sterling Opera House.

Mayor Anthony Staffieri announced Monday that the Valley Community Foundation has awarded a $4,500 grant toward the work. The money includes $2,500 in funds from the Samuel Rifkin Memorial Fund, established at the Valley Community Foundation by David Rifkin in memory of his father, a longtime Derby businessman.

“I am extremely grateful for their generosity and interest in our beloved Sterling Opera House,” Staffieri said. “This brings us one step closer to realizing the completion of what I envision as a regional cultural center.”

Sheila Oâ€\Malley, city director of Economic and Community Development, said Monday the city now has about $190,000 raised for the interior design work. This amount also includes state and federal funds and grant money from the Katharine Matthies Foundation, she said.

“We can get a decent interior design with these funds,” Oâ€\Malley said.

According to Oâ€\Malley, the interior design work may be more expensive, as design work can be about 10 percent of the total renovation cost, which would put the design work in the $1 million range.

“Because we only have about $190,000, I am going to put a bid out there to see how much we can get done for that amount and go from there,” Oâ€\Malley said.

The money will be used to hire a design team and to work on creating construction documents, according to Staffieri.

Once the design work is completed, the city can then apply for money to actually renovate the inside of the building, Oâ€\Malley said. She estimated it will cost about $10 million for the interior renovations.

According to Oâ€\Malley, the interior design work will take about six months, and then the renovations will take another year and a half.

“We are probably about two years away from having the Sterling Opera House open,” Oâ€\Malley said.

The city spent months doing exterior upgrades to the building, and it is now sealed off from the elements.

A new main cupola for the roof has been fabricated, and it is now in storage. A cupola is decorative, like the steeple on a church. It will be installed on top of the building in the spring. Officials are seeking more state grant money to do roof foundation and modification work to support the new cupola, as bids had come in higher than city officials expected.

“The cupola is heavy, and it has to withstand the wind and the weather, so the new foundation is important,” Oâ€\Malley said.

City officials hope the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will eventually be a regional performing arts center.

Ken Hughes, president of the Board of Aldermen, said, “We have worked hard the last two years on completing the outside renovations, and we will continue to work hard to complete the inside. The end result will benefit Derby and the Valley.”

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo can be reached at , or 789-5707.

allairejqs on November 2, 2009 at 5:57 am

Halloween art exhibit unveils Sterling Opera House ‘ghostâ€\
Saturday, October 31, 2009

By Patricia Villers, Register Staff

DERBY â€" Valley Arts Council President Rich DiCarlo said Halloween is an ideal time to showcase spooky art and hunt for ghosts in what some say is a haunted building.

He is more than happy to show off a photo of “ghost-like figures” that he snapped inside the historic Sterling Opera House, the long-vacant 19th century building on Elizabeth Street.

DiCarlo, who also serves as chairman of the cityâ€\s Cultural Commission, took the photo in 2007, but thought he lost it when his comptuer crashed. He discovered that since he had e-mailed the photo, it was still stored on a server and he was able to retrieve it.

The photo depicts a shadowy figure of what looks like a woman wearing a Victorian-era dress, standing in the theater balcony. Next to “her” is a smaller figure that could be a person seated behind a balcony railing.

DiCarlo said the photo may be two years old, but “we figured what better day to announce the discovery than on Halloween.”

The photo is in a glass case in the arts councilâ€\s GalleryFox Performing Arts Center, a small gallery at 37 Elizabeth St. filled with various kinds of artwork produced by council members.

The Halloween-themed exhibit will be up for a week, DiCarlo said.

In August, paranormal expert Richard Felix of Derby, England, former host of Britainâ€\s “Most Haunted” television show, arrived as part of a trip he is making to visit all of the Derbys in the world.

DiCarlo said he was with Mayor Anthony Staffieri when Staffieri gave Felix a tour of the opera house. A photo was taken in a dressing room, and the photo shows what looks like a woman wearing a Victorian-style dress similar to what is in his 2007 photo.

DiCarlo said as far as he can determine, the opera house was never the scene of anything tragic. One theory is the shadowy female figure is the widow of Charles Sterling, after whom the opera house is named. Sterling died before the building was completed. DiCarlo said “sheâ€\s the common denominator” connected to the building and may be watching over it.

DiCarlo said a popular paranormal investigation TV show has expressed an interest in visiting Derby to shoot an episode.

“I have my evidence, and people can read into it what they want,” DiCarlo said.

Patricia Villers can be reached at

allairejqs on December 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

Officials hope revived Opera House will revitalize downtown
By Kate Ramunni
Updated: 12/03/2009 11:30:05 PM EST

DERBY — Five years ago, the long-shuttered Palace Theater in Waterbury got a multimillion-dollar makeover, and the city hasn’t been the same since, officials there say.
Officials here hope refurbishing the Sterling Opera House will have the same affect on downtown Derby, and next week will take another step in that direction.
Bids will go out next week for an architect to come up with a new design for the interior of the Elizabeth Street building, Economic Development Director Sheila O'Malley said. And on Thursday, Palace Theater CEO Frank Tavera toured the facility to get a feel for the building and see what he thinks it can become.
“It has huge potential,” Tavera said. “It’s impressive — it’s a great structure with great bones and a nice layout.” Whoever is chosen to oversee the interior design will be asked to consult with Tavera, O'Malley said, in hopes of replicating here the success he brought to Waterbury.
“It was a big transformation, and a lot of the credit goes to Frank,” O'Malley said. “He’s done a remarkable job.” The Palace is considerably larger than the opera house —2,600 seats compared to the 900 that are estimated to be installed here. Waterbury got $30 million in restoration funding from the state Department of Economic and Community Development for the work, Tavera said, but that was in different economic times.
“Back then they had money to give out,” he said.
The Palace, like the Sterling Opera House, was vacant for years before the makeover, Tavera said. Since it reopened, “we have seen huge growth downtown,” he said, as the theater hosts about 130 programs annually.
“The streets there used to be empty,” Mayor Anthony Staffieri said, “and now they’re full” — just what he wants to see here.
“It has totally revitalized downtown (Waterbury) with foot traffic,” Tavera said, with more than a half million people coming to the theater in the past five years.
And that traffic has fueled an increase of customers for downtown businesses, Tavera said.
“Restaurants have seen a 30 percent increase in business and new restaurants have popped up,” he said. “The city is cleaner, safer and friendlier than it was five years ago.”
That’s why it’s imperative that the opera house project is done right, Tavera said. The chosen architects must “maximize the best design of that space,” he said.
“The architects will be consulting with Frank because of his expertise and insight,” O'Malley said. “They will be coordinating with him and getting a lot of input.”
Those expected to respond to the request for bids include graduate architectural students from Yale University, O'Malley said. The city has about $200,000 in grant money to pay for the work that came from the Valley Community Foundation, the Katherine Matthies Foundation, Bank of America and money procured by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, O'Malley said.
“We will get as much done as we possibly can with the money — it’s a good start,” she said. The outside of the building was recently completed using more than a million dollars in grant money.
It’s money well spent, said Staffieri, who holds the opera house as a top priority.
“Having a theater in our city will create a renaissance in the whole Valley,” he said. “We will have something to brag about in our own hometown.”

allairejqs on December 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, Naugatuck Valley Bureau Chief

DERBY â€" The city is going out to bid this week to find an architectural and engineering firm to design the interior of the Sterling Opera House.

Sheila Oâ€\Malley, executive director of the cityâ€\s Office of Economic and Community Development, said the city will give prospective bidders until Jan. 22 to submit a bid package.

“We are hoping to get some very competitive bid prices and cost estimates because of the current economic climate,” Oâ€\Malley said.

The city has raised about $190,000 through state and federal funds and grant money from private organizations to use toward funding the interior design work.

“We are hoping that weâ€\ll get the lionâ€\s share of the interior design done,” Oâ€\Malley said. “Weâ€\ll see how far the money takes us.”

City officials are working to transform the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, into a regional performing arts center.

The city wants the successful bidder to have extensive experience in designing historic theater facilities.

Once the design work is completed, the city can apply for money to actually renovate the inside of the building, Oâ€\Malley said. She estimated it will cost about $10 million to renovate the interior into a new state of the art performance space.

According to Oâ€\Malley, the interior design work will take about six months, and then renovations will take another year and a half.

The city spent months doing exterior upgrades to the building, and it is now sealed off from the elements. A new main cupola is scheduled to be installed on top of the building in the spring.

Many of the old theater seats have been removed, and the new design will likely feature fewer seats, but larger ones, for increased comfort, Oâ€\Malley said.

“The acoustics are near-perfect, and we want to keep the integrity of the acoustics intact,” Oâ€\Malley said.

The successful bidder will need to consult with theater groups to determine what needs to be done inside the building, she said. Compliance with handicapped accessibility and fire codes must also be part of the plans.

“Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the interior design also has to comply with historic regulations,” Oâ€\Malley said. “Theyâ€\ll have to make it historic, but functional. Weâ€\ll need modern technology to accommodate modern theater and community groups.”

The opera house was used as a theater until 1945 and housed city offices and a police station until 1965, then for years was left vacant and deteriorating.

Mayor Anthony Staffieri stressed that no city funding is being used for the interior design work, as the city was able to secure private grants and state and federal funding.

“This will start the process of it being designed for the use we want,” Staffieri said. “The design will eliminate the old city hall and police station offices. A theater will need wardrobe space and dressing rooms. This design will map out how the inside will look. This is another pivotal moment for the opera house.”

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo can be reached at or at 789-5707.

allairejqs on September 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Derby Searching For Opera House Photos
by Nina Leff | Aug 19, 2010 9:10 pm

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Derby Searching For Opera House Photos
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Derby Public Library
Derby officials say this is one of the few old interior photos they have of the Sterling Opera House on Elizabeth Street.

Derby city officials are on the hunt for interior photographs of the Sterling Opera House.

While exterior shots of the old Elizabeth Street opera house are common, photographs of the interior are rare. Officials want the photos to get a sense of what the interior of the historic building looked like in its golden years. The photos could guide them if and when the interior renovation starts.

The city is searching for grant money to renovate the interior. They’ve collected money for an exterior rehab and have money to hire an architect to figure out how to handle the interior renovations.

As it stands, they have just one interior shot of the opera house. It’s from the Derby Public Library’s local history collection.

The photo depicts two men, one playing a violin. Neither man has been identified and the photograph does not have a date. The location of the photo was identified as the second floor of the opera house.

Derby’s Markanthony Izzo said flyers will be hung around the city asking the public to look for photos. A copy of the flyer is posted below. Article continues after the document.


“There has to be more photographs out there somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding them,” Izzo said.

Izzo is using the media, personal connections and the local senior centers to track down more photographs.

Interior photographs of the opera house would benefit the current restoration project by providing insight into what it looked like while operational, Mayor Anthony Staffieri said.

“What we really need right now is pictures of the inside of the theater so we can actually restore it to its original state,” Staffieri said.

So far, all information on the interior of Sterling has come from articles in the Evening Sentinel from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

If officials want to copy the color patterns of the old theater, it’s possible.

“We’re fortunate in that the newspapers back then were much more local,” said Robert Novak, executive director of the Derby Historical Society.

“Often, the Sterling Opera House would renovate and the newspaper would describe the colors of the walls, the trim, the carpets. These are invaluable,” Novak said.

allairejqs on September 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Spooky doings may get air time
Written by Susan Hunter
The Valley Gazette
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 13:40

The Sterling Opera House in Derby may be featured on a television show focusing on paranormal activity (Photo by Susan Hunter)
DERBY â€" Derby’s historic, and vacant, Sterling Opera House may be featured in an upcoming segment of the television show Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, said Rich DiCarlo, president of the Derby Cultural Commission.

DiCarlo spoke at the Board of Aldermen meeting on Aug. 26, requesting the board’s approval to allow the production company to enter the Opera House.

Aldermen complied.

Their vote was necessary because the opera house is considered an abandoned building, DiCarlo said.

And, it may be haunted.

DiCarlo said he sat in on a preliminary paranormal investigation in the old structure when an investigator began communicating with the spirit of a little boy.

DiCarlo said he saw a rubber ball move along the floor and saw childlike handprints appear on a chair.

“We have evidence of the voice of a child on a digital sound recorder,” he said.

“All the findings are subject to interpretation,” he emphasized, but the production company has expressed interest in filming a show about possible paranormal activity at the opera house, pending a review of the evidence.

The building is “a big tape recorder,” he said, with quartz in its foundation and brick walls. People who have a sensitivity to the paranormal act as antennae.

And there may be more publicity.

A small segment is expected to be aired on Animal Planet’s The Haunted show, he said, focusing on sightings of two figures walking through the building that were caught on tape, and on spheres of light.

DiCarlo said the commission is looking into conducting “spooking sessions” at the local libraries at Halloween time.

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allairejqs on December 8, 2010 at 7:49 am

Up On The Rooftop
by Markanthony Izzo | Dec 8, 2010 7:53 am

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Up On The Rooftop
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Sent: Dec 8, 2010 10:46 am

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Photo: Markanthony Izzo

The American Flag in the foreground at the Derby Municipal Parking Garage gives an indication of the working conditions the crew in the background on the roof is up against.

The workers are installing a base that will support a cupola on the historic Sterling Opera House which was the first structure in Connecticut to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cupola is tentatively scheduled to be in place by the end of next week.

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TheALAN on June 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

The correct address for the Sterling Opera House is — 106 Elizabeth Street, Derby CT 06418.

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