The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, is more commonly known as the Saigon Opera House. It is a custom built opera house in Saigon’s District 1. Saigon has many fine examples of French colonial architecture, The Opera House surely must rank as one of the finest.
The Opera House dominates the view looking up the top end of Le Loi. It sits at 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, in Saigon. It is a wonderful building and much photographed by tourists, visiting the city. It was built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret and originally called Opera de Saigon. It is small with just 466 seats, but provides the most intimate and acoustically perfect venue imaginable.
The front of the building is tastefully designed with a large archway over the main entrance There are two pillars with figurines holding up the lintel. An arched window on either side complete the balance of the design. It is painted in the traditional colours of white and pale pink, so predominant in French Neo-gothic architecture. Its architectural style is influenced by that of the French Third Republic, and was built to resemble Le Petite Palais that was built in the same year. Many aspects of décor, and furnishings were drawn in France and sent over.
The original theatre’s façade was criticised as being too ornate and the high costs of production also drew criticism. The then municipal government attempted to turn the theatre into a concert hall, but never succeeded. They did however remove much decoration, engraving and some statues in 1943 to make the theatre look more in keeping with the country’s ideals. The theatre was damaged in 1944, by bombing attacks against the Japanese Imperial Army, forcing its temporary closure. Later the theatre was used as a temporary shelter for French refugees arriving from the North.
The interior of the building is truly magnificent, with ornate carvings on the balconies, delightful pillars and intricate plaster mouldings everywhere. The stage lighting is very cleverly, hidden in alcoves at the top of the walls and was way ahead of it’s time when designed. The rich red seating contrasts beautifully with the cream coloured décor. It really is a sight for sore eyes.
To the rear there is a Highlands Coffee shop which is one of the most popular in the city. With large seating areas both inside and out, it is busy at all times. The mornings here are always extremely busy as local Saigon people partake of that most Vietnamese of business customs, drinking fine coffee and working online.
The Opera House stages many varied productions and has a full calendar of events that prove popular with tourists and locals alike.