Royal Opera House - an old photo superimposed on a recent one shows how the Royal Opera House would have looked if it were still standing today. Photo

The Royal Opera House

Located majestically at the entrance to Valletta, the Royal Opera House used to stand on Strada Reale (Kingsway, now called Republic Street), flanked by South Street and Ordnance Street. The project was entrusted to Edward Middleton Barry, the architect of Covent Garden Theatre, London, who designed the Royal Opera House in the Neo-Baroque style which had become fashionable in Europe and ensured the popularity of this building with the Maltese public*.
The project started in 1860, although it was delayed when alterations had to be carried out to Barry’s plans as these did not take into consideration the slope of the site, thus a high podium had to be added to the Kingsway facade, making the ending result even grander.
Construction got going in 1862 with the demolition of the Casa della Giornata to make way for the theatre which was to occupy the site measuring 206 feet by 112 feet. Construction was supervised by Maltese architect Salvatore Fenech who had supervised the construction of the Valletta Market. The cost of the theatre was to have been around 30,000 pounds, but the finished building eventually cost between 44,000 and 60,000 pounds, an enormous sum which drew sharp criticism from many.
The Royal Opera House was completed in 1866 and inaugurated that same year with the opera of Vincenzo Bellini "I Puritani". The overall capacity was 1,090 people sitting and about 200 standing. It is almost impossible to image the glitter and elegance of the audience, both local and foreign, who were present at its opening ceremony that October evening in 1866.

Tragedy struck when on 25th May 1873 a fire broke out inside the Opera House, completely destroying its lavish interiors. Fortunately, the façade and exterior were left almost intact, and soon reconstruction was underway to restore it to its former glory. On 11th October 1877, exactly eleven years and two days after its first grand opening, the Opera House opened its doors once again, this time to Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.
During its years of existence, the Royal Opera House was the focal point of Maltese cultural life and classical music. Some of the most famous opera singers of the time, like Gianna Pederzini,Antonio Scotti or Mariano Stabile, actually performed in Valletta’s Opera House in its earliest years. The Royal Opera also housed some of the world’s most important musical pieces, like those composed by Bizet, Verdi and Donizetti.

Sadly, the Royal Opera House was to become the symbol of destruction during the Second World War. In 1942, after weeks of fierce air raids by the German Luftwaffe, the Royal Opera House was bombed repeatedly until part of the ceiling and a corner collapsed inward on the evening of Tuesday, 7 April 1942 leaving behind a huge pile of smoking rubble. For safety reasons, the Opera House was finally dismantled about a decade later, though Mr. Edwin Abela, the architect who carried out the demolition, insists that at the time, the Opera House could have been repaired. The stones were numbered and stored, most in a field near the Addolorata Cemetery, however they were eventually dispersed and in spite of repeated electoral promises, the reconstruction of the Opera House was destined not to be.

*5000 Years of Architecture in Malta; Leonard Mahoney, 1996


Royal Opera House - architectural detail. Photo courtesy of Ray Pisani.

Royal Opera House - architectural detail. Photo courtesy of Ray Pisani.



Royal Opera House - the aftermath of the February 1942 bombing

Royal Opera House - the aftermath of the February 1942 bombing



Royal Opera House at Night

Royal Opera House at Night



Royal Opera House facade. Photo courtesy of Bay Retro

Royal Opera House facade. Photo courtesy of Bay Retro



Royal Opera House Grand Naval Ball given by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1889.

Royal Opera House Grand Naval Ball given by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1889.



Royal Opera House Interior

Royal Opera House Interior