Nowadays, when you walk into Valletta the first thing you are greeted by is the City’s open plan entrance and the new Parliament Building on its metal stilts. 75 years ago today however, your evening walk into Valletta would have been stopped in its tracks by a tragedy. You look down, your feet are dusty; you look around you, you’re surrounded by rubble. And then you look up; and it’s gone. What was once the capital city’s most stunning landmark, is now one with the rubble around it.
The Royal Opera House was designed by the renowned British architect Edward Middleton Barry and was completed in 1866. Built in a classical style, with Greek columns surrounding the outside, the budget for the theatre was that of £30,000; but in the end it was calculated to have costed somewhere between £44,000 and a whopping £60,000. In today’s money, that high-end figure is around £6,655,000 pounds. It could hold a capacity of almost 1,300 people and was opened on October 9th to a lavish opening ceremony of glitter and brass.
It wouldn’t last long however before the Opera House would be closed down. In 1873 the theatre’s glorious interior was destroyed by a fierce fire; however the structural integrity and indeed facade of the building remained in tip-top shape. It was refurbhished and re-opened to the public on October 11th 1877 to a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.
During it’s existence, the Royal Opera House became the focal point for Malta’s Arts circle. It hosted a number of prominent opera singers, like Gianna Pederzini, Antonio Scotti, and Mariano Stabile whilst also giving it’s stage to the performances of top class pieces from artists such as Bizet, Verdi, and Donizetti.
However, the Opera House in all its splendor; would soon became a symbol that embodied the destruction that war brought with it. Throughout the early months of 1942, the Germans upped their bombings on the island in an effort to starve Malta out and the island soon became statistically the most bombed place on the whole planet. On the night of April 7th, 1942, the Royal Opera House was hit by two bombs. The next morning, the damage was assessed. The facade was a heap; the auditorium destroyed, and two gaping wholes could be found in the roof. The back part of the Opera House however was still intact.
Once the war had finished, the rubble was cleared away; but rebuilding was continually put off in favour of other infrastructural projects. The remaining structure was eventually dismantled in the 1950s, despite the belief by Mr. Edwin Abela, the architect tasked to demolish it, that it could be rebuilt. Rebuilt, however, it never was; and eventually it’s ruins became converted into an open air theatre as part of Renzo Piano’s regeneration project for the entrance to Valletta. Should this national treasure be rebuilt to its former splendor?