The Manoel Theatre is both a historical monument of immense cultural value and also the most important performing arts venue in Malta.
It has a rich and long history dating back to 1731 when it was built on request of Grand Master Fra António Manoel de Vilhena–hence its name.
The small but pristine theatre, with its pale blue trompe-l’oeil ceiling, impressive chandelier and perfect acoustics can be found right in the heart of Valletta in Old Theatre Street. It doesn’t take a lot of time to visit the theatre, but I would really suggest going for the full experience and attend a show there. Theatre lovers all agree that the experience is magical.
Few shows are held, especially in summer, but if an interesting performance is scheduled during your stay, it’s the perfect way to get the best experience.
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Every month, the Manoel Theatre hosts concerts, musicals, opera, dance, drama and many other types of shows aimed at providing entertainment to visitors.
Some of these shows are an annual appointment that many theatre-lovers look forward to, such as the Panto (a Christmas show full of satire appealing to both children and adults).
This entertainment show is based on traditional children’s stories (such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, etc) and in true British-style, makes fun of current events and situations.
Visit the following link for a list of upcoming events that are currently featured on the Manoel Theatre events calendar.
Of course, we can’t list them all. But the Manoel Theatre has been a hot venue since its Medieval beginnings. From companies of professional artists to performing Knights of the Order of St John have performed French tragedies and Italian comedies.
Works by Niccolò Piccinni, Baldassare Galuppi and Johann Adolf Hasse were very popular during the theatre’s early years.
The Manoel has hosted many important artists, including Katia Ricciarelli, Steve Hackett, Rosanna Carteri, Mirella Freni, Boris Christoff, Cecilia Gasdia, Flaviano Labò, Louis Kentner, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Dame Moura Lympany, Magda Olivero, John Neville, Michael Ponti, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Joseph Calleja. The Staatsballett Berlin (Berlin State Opera Ballet), the Comédie-Française and the Nottingham Playhouse are only a few of the visiting companies that have performed in this theatre.
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The Manoel Theatre was constructed in line with the contemporary Mannerist style of Medieval Valletta. The plain façade opens onto a small, cozy venue with 623 seats. It has an oval-shaped auditorium, three tiers of boxes and a pale blue trompe-l’oeil ceiling that resembles a round cupola. Trompe-l’oeils, French for “deceive the eye”, is a technique that creates a sort of 3D optical illusion used in the Baroque period.
Originally, the boxes were made of stone until the British converted them to wood which they decorated with gold leaf. Its auditorium was originally semi-circular or horseshoe shaped, with an illuminated parterre that served as a small dance floor.
The interior is decorated in Rococo style. The theatre was possibly designed by Romano Carapecchia and thought to have been modelled after the Teatro Santa Cecilia in Palermo, Sicily.
The gallery and proscenium we see today were added by Sir George Whitmore in 1812. He also had the the ceiling raised by one level and added eight boxes, bringing the total up to 67. Sir Whitmore gave the auditorium the oval shape we can see today. In 1844 more alterations were made and included repainting the wooden boxes and gilding their panels. In 1906, an additional layer of silver leaf was added to the panels and ceiling.
In 1731, the Portuguese Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena commissioned the construction of the theatre, funding it out of his own pockets. He wanted this theatre to provide the general public with ‘honest entertainment’, a motto he had inscribed in Latin above the main entrance to the theatre: ‘Ad honestam populi oblectationem’. It took the Maltese builders Francesco Zerafa and Antonio Azzopardi just ten months to finish the place.
Manoel Theatre was not the place’s original name. At first, it went by the name Teatro Pubblico (Public Theatre), then in 1812 the name was changed to Teatro Reale (Royal Theatre). After the construction of Malta’s new Royal Opera House in 1866, the theatre’s name was changed one final time to Teatro Manoel (Manoel Theatre).
The first performance, held on the 19th January 1732, was a classic Italian tragedy called Merope, written by Scipione Maffei. This was acted out by the Knights themselves, and the set was designed by Francois Mondion, the Knights` chief architect.
For a brief period during the late 1800s, the Manoel Theatre fell into disuse and soon became a shelter for the homeless. In the 1920s, the theatre was used as a cinema instead. The Manoel Theatre officially reopened as a theatre in the 1960s.
Being located in the centre of Valletta, it’s easy to get to the Manoel Theatre. All you need to do is catch a bus to Valletta (which is easy to do from most places in Malta) or drive and park just outside the city.
Getting to the Manoel Theatre takes a brief 15-minute walk from Valletta City Gate.
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