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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Manoel Theatre

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Manoel Theatre

115, Old Theatre Street, Valletta, Tel: (+356) 21 246389, www.teatrumanoel.com.mt

Open on Monday to Friday from 1015 until 1630. On Saturdays, tours run from 1015 until 1230. The Audio Tour Tickets are Eur 5.00

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The Theatre is the third oldest in Europe. Its dull façade does not do justice to the intricate rococo style interior. Despite its minuscule stage and an auditorium with a seating capacity of less than 650, the Manoel is arguably Malta’s best known venue for theatrical productions. The foundation stone was laid in 1731, and completed at super speed in a mere ten months, under the auspices of the Grandmaster António Manoel de Vilhena, after whom the building is named. The purpose of this venture was to provide the Maltese public with “honest entertainment”, as expounded by the Latin inscription above the main entrance: “ad honestam populi oblectationem”. The Protettore served as the Theatre’s censor and was responsible for its general running.

The Manoel subsequently underwent several enhancements, including a major upgrade in 1812, commissioned by Sir George Whitmore.

The Manoel’s maiden performance was Maffei’s Merope, held on 19th January 1732, with the Knights themselves taking on acting roles. The stage set-up for that production was designed by the Order’s architect, Françoise Mondion. Its popularity waned in 1866 when Edward Barry’s much larger opera house, located at Strada Reale (now Republic Street) took over as Malta’s arch-theatrical venue and the Manoel was allowed to deteriorate into a derelict building serving mainly as a make-shift shelter for the homeless. A fire in 1873 partly destroyed the Opera house and the Manoel enjoyed revived yet temporary popularity until the former was reinstated.

In 1944, the Opera house was reduced to rubble during an air attack by the Axis. A ten year, painstaking restoration process ensued, which returned the Manoel to its former glory.

The future of the Manoel now seems guaranteed. It is a treasured part of the country’s cultural heritage, a source of pride for the Maltese public, and has been given the status of Malta’s national theatre. It regularly hosts cultural events of international calibre, from recitals to plays, to operas and operettas.

The foyer was enlarged in 1990 when the building was annexed to Casa Bonici. There is also a small museum, set up in 1997. On display here are stage props and accessories including costumes and devices that prior to the advent of modern technology used to generate sound effects such as rain, thunder and wind. Another section displays artifacts pertaining to the Royal Opera House that was  destroyed during an Axis bombing on 7th April 1942.