Hanoi Opera House — Resounding Legacy On a High Note

Hanoi Opera House (Vietnamese spelling: Nhà hát Lớn Hà Nội) is Vietnam’s largest theater. This famous landmark is on August Revolution Square overlooking the bustling Trang Tien Street. It’s also within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter.

Hanoi Opera House is one of three opera houses that the French built. The others are Hai Phong Opera House in Hai Phong City and Saigon Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City. Built by the French between 1901 to 1911, the opera house is a singular theatrical attraction in Hanoi.

About Hanoi Opera House: The Past and The Present

About Hanoi Opera House
[ by Manhhai from Flickr ]

The French came to rule Vietnam in 1883, and it was under their influence that the Hanoi Opera House was built. Also, as the French community increased, the need for their own artistic space began to emerge.

As a result, two skillful architects — Broyer and Harley, designed this neo-classical masterpiece inspired by the Garnier Opera House in Paris.

Historical Background of Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House Background
Vietnam People’s Army soldiers marching to the Opera House during victory celebrations in 1980
[ by Manhhai from Flickr ]

Hanoi Opera House tells of a bygone era of Hanoi’s social and cultural development under French rule. It also reflects architectural evolution from the 19th to the 20th century.

As documented, it opened in 1911. Completion took 300 workers toiling daily for 10 years at a cost of  2 million Francs in the day. It soon became Vietnam’s window to Western art — specifically opera, chamber music, and drama.

The Opera House started as a cultural epicenter for the French and the Vietnamese elite. However, it later became the venue for important political events, including a visit by then-President Ho Chi Minh in 1946.

Hanoi Opera House as It Is Today

Hanoi Opera House Today
The three-level Audience Room
[by Vietnam National Opera and Ballet from Facebook ]

This historical landmark was renovated in 1997. Included were state-of-the-art equipment and partial renewal of the interior. The Opera House is where national and international performances such as concerts, traditional Vietnamese plays, folk music, and art shows take place.

It is regarded as a ‘temple’ for classical art. For an artist to perform here is a recognition of their talent and contribution to their art. The Opera House is also the chosen venue for the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra.

It regularly features artists from around the world. Famous musicians to have performed here include (violinist) Hilary Hahn, (cellist) Yo-Yo Ma, (pianist) Wolfgang Glemser, and (conductor) Gudni A. Emilsson.

Two annual classical concerts with international artists that draw crowds are Toyota Concert and Hennessy Classical Concert. To add to the list, famous national pop stars such as Mỹ Linh, Thanh Lam, or Hồng Nhung have also performed here.

Some Interesting Facts about The Hanoi Opera House

1. The building took 10 years to complete from 1901 to 1911.

2. It stands 34 meters above the ground and covers 2600 sq.m.

3. The auditorium is 24 sq.m with three floors of seats totallying 589 seats.

4. In 1995, the government spent nearly 14 million USD on restorations.

5. The building became a National Relic on its 100th birthday on December 9th, 2011.

Performances: The Show Must Go On

Hanoi Opera House Performances
[by Vietnam National Opera and Ballet from Facebook ]

When the Opera House opened, it depended on touring performances of  Italian and French works. Artists performed mainly for a French audience and the Vietnamese elite.

When the French left, the place was used for Vietnamese plays and musicals. Western Opera returned in 1960 with the first non-French Opera —Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Today it stages many performances by the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra. Opera has also seen many premieres by Vietnamese composers. This included the first-ever Vietnamese classic opera Miss Sao (cô Sao) in 1965 by the composer Đỗ Nhuận.

The National Ballet is also a part of the Opera House company and stages western classics from time to time like Swan Lake. In addition to these, there are traditional and contemporary Vietnamese dance productions.

The Architecture of The Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House Architecture
[ by Emma-Vietanh Estanove from Facebook ]

Hanoi Opera House is listed among the most representative, well-designed, and artistic buildings in Asia. Neo-classical French design with Gothic elements is predominant. However, it also merges several other stylistic elements.

The pillars and stone-tiled roof follow a Roman Ionic order. Additionally, the curved balconies and dome over the entrance are early Italian Baroque. The roof along the car park is of Art Nouveau’s influence.

The Opera House has three distinct parts. Each has unique elements that are remarkable in its own right. The three parts are — Main Lobby, Mirror Room, and Audience Room.

Main Lobby

Hanoi Opera House Lobby
T-shaped staircase
[ by Lucy Pullen from Facebook ]

The Main Lobby welcomes guests into the theater. A T-shaped staircase of Italian stone leads to the second-floor theater. The color of the stone and motif patterns match the lobby’s space and scale. This gives it a sizable rug-like feel. There are small copper plated chandeliers hanging on the wall while the overhead chandeliers are gilded.

Mirror Room

The Mirror Room on the second floor. It includes the main room and two small rooms on either side. True to its name, there are big mirrors between the doors. However, one of the most notable features is the restored floor using mosaic techniques.

Visitors can still see traces of bullet marks from the Battle of Hanoi (1946). This was during the First Indochine war between the Viet Minh forces and the French. 

The Mirror Room was and remains the venue for important events. These include welcoming heads of state, state signing ceremonies, music programs and press conferences.

Audience Room

The Audience Room is the main performance area. It’s 24 square meters with a huge stage. There are three tiered levels of seating for 598 people. The floor is brick covered in fireproof carpeting. All the furniture is 19th-century classical French.

It has Corinthian columns and a large gilded crystal chandelier. The ceilings have colorful frescos and plaster embossed paintings by renowned French artists.

Finally, behind the stage are 18 dressing rooms, two gyms, offices, a meeting room, and a library. It even has a souvenir shop with displays on the theater’s history.

The French Influence on Architecture

Hanoi Opera House Design
Classical arches can be seen across Hanoi
[ by alannabooks from Pixabay ]

One notices the neo-colonial French influence in architecture across Vietnam’s major cities. For example, Hanoi displays a mix of art deco (a play of simple shapes), Neo-Gothic style in the churches, and a rural French influence in villa designs.

The French influence merged beautifully with the Vietnamese architectural styles to create the Indochine (Đông Dương) style. To this day, Hanoi has many such heritage buildings that retain their original appearance, patterns, and materials.

Many of these buildings are now cultural landmarks or used by Vietnamese authorities. Their functions include government offices, embassies, post offices, schools, boutique shops, hospitals, and museums. Thus, Hanoi exhibits a blend of the past and modernity with colonial structures alongside high-rises.

Exploring the Hanoi Opera House Neighborhood

Hanoi Opera House Neighborhood
The facade of the Opera House overlooking August Revolution Square
[ by Gary Todd from Flickr ]

Located on the famous August Revolution Square, Hanoi Opera House is within walking distance from Hoan Kiem Lake and Hanoi Old Quarter.

The Opera House is opposite the Hanoi Hilton Hotel (another neo-colonial design). To its southwest are a couple of cafes and Ly Thai To Park. 

The area around the Opera House is always busy. Very often, you find couples taking wedding photos against this beautiful backdrop.

The Museum of the Revolution and Vietnam National Museum of History is within a 5-minute walk and a great way to discover Vietnam’s history.

View all locations mentioned

Guide to The Opera Etiquette

A visit to the opera can be a memorable experience. Though there are no set rules, but there is a core code of conduct that is expected:

  • Arrive at least 15 mins before the performance. Late arrivals may not be permitted into the theater.
  • Locate your seat before the performance starts to avoid disturbances.
  • Formal attire is appropriate and expected. 
  • No food is allowed inside the theater.
  • Smoking is prohibited inside the Opera House.
  • Filming or recording devices require prior consent.  
  • Maintain silence during the performance.
  • The Opera House is not suitable for children below the age of six.

Key Notes on The Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House Ballet
[ by Vietnam National Opera and Ballet from Facebook ]
  • Suitable for: Adults and children over 6
  • Capacity: 598 seats 
  • Entry: Entrance is permitted for private tours or performances only.
  • To explore the Hanoi Opera House, visitors can join a 50-min walking tour (timings: 2.30pm, 3.30pm, and 4.30pm) or even a virtual tour on the website.
  • Price of tickets: The cost varies depending on the events, but usually around 30 USD for a regular seat or 90 USD and upwards for a VIP seat.
  • Student Discount: There is a 50% student discount available, so please check while booking.

For tickets, show timings, and other details: Visit the Hanoi Opera House website. Hanoi Opera House can get crowded, so booking e-tickets is highly recommended.

Last Words

Hanoi Opera House Concert
Europe Day Special Concert at Hanoi Opera House
[ by Vietnam Classical Players from Facebook ]

Hanoi Opera House is a must-visit when in Hanoi. It has remarkable architecture and par excellence performances. Even if you are just visiting, there is a garden with cozy seating and fairy lights. You can relax here and marvel at it as time stands still for a few moments.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Opera House is currently closed and will reopen once restrictions are lifted. 

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