Originally built to entertain French nationals, the Saigon Opera House or The Municipal Theater, with a neo classical façade resembling that of the Petit Palais in Paris was designed, built and decorated by French architects during the turn of the 20th century. It replaced a temporary theater that was on the site of what is now the Caravelle Hotel. In its heyday the three storied interior could accommodate 1,800 people. Although the opera house was built to entertain the French and the growing middle class of Saigon and theater companies funded by the municipal government performed there regularly the theater’s popularity declined as people preferred the entertainment provided in the burgeoning dance halls and nightclubs.
To meet the high cost of maintaining the theater, the municipality of Saigon tried to turn it into a concert hall and even had some of the external embellishments removed to change its character. The fortunes of the opera house changed from the time it sustained damage from allied air attacks during the Japanese occupation of Saigon. It was used as a shelter for French civilians fleeing North Vietnam in the early 1950s and served as the Lower House of the National Assembly of the state and then the Republic of South Vietnam for a brief period thereafter. For several long years the full potential of the opera house was never realized nor was it at its best. However after reunification in 1975 the building reverted to its original function as a theater and opera house and in 1998 a major restoration of its façade, interior and sound and lighting systems was carried out by municipality of Saigon. Chandeliers and rows of statues now decorate the interior and the neo classical charm of its exterior is once again on view. Programs of western classical music, Vietnamese traditional theater and gymnastic performances are staged here. The majestic building provides a touch of distinction to the Ho Cho Minh city cityscape.
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