Long before Manoel Theatre was built, plays and other entertainment were mainly hosted in halls and at the Knights Auberge’s (residences). It soon became evident to the Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena that a fully functional theatre was needed. In 1871 he commissioned and personally funded the building of the theatre and purchased two houses from the Priory of Navarre in order to facilitate this.
Construction of the theatre only took ten months and is said to be modelled after the Palermo Theatre. Built by the Grandmaster to provide the public with “honest entertainment”. This motto is, in fact, inscribed above the theatre’s main entrance to this very day reading as “ad honestam populi oblectationem”.
The theatre is located on Old Theatre Street in Valletta, first opened its doors in 1732, and is one of the oldest theatres in Europe and home to the Maltese Philharmonic Orchestra. The interior of the theatre is designed in Rococo style with a stone open balcony and has three floors. It has been renamed several times over the centuries, firstly known as Teatro Pubblico, then Theatre Royal in 1812 and finally Theatre Manoel in 1866 after its founder.
The first play to be performed here was Maffei’s Merope in 1732. Over the centuries the venue hosted an extensive repertoire of operas performed by visiting companies and amateur groups of knights. In 1783 the theatre underwent a significent amount of modification and restoration based on a design by Roman architect Natale Marini.
During the British era in Malta, the theatre again underwent some re-modelling in 1812 under Sir George Whitmore with a new gallery, new theatre boxes, the ceiling being raised by one-storey and the auditorium being transformed into the oval shape it is today. It also served as an emergency accommodation centre during the axis bombardment of Valletta during World War II.
The theatre went through several further renovations over the years. Today the theatre continues to show a variety of theatrical productions by both local and international stars. Famous opera singers and musicians that have performed here include Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Berlin State Ballet.
For more information about the Manoel Theatre visit the website here.