The Saigon Opera House is a prime example of French colonial architecture in Vietnam. Officially, it’s the Municipal Theater of Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese spelling: Nhà hát Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh).
Throughout its existence, the Saigon Opera House has been an inseparable part of the city’s history. Nowadays, it holds the stage for many amazing art performances. In addition to the excellent downtown location, the surrounding area is a popular hang-out spot.
Performances at the Saigon Opera House
Saigon Opera House is a three-tier stage with 1800 seats and hosts a range of performing art shows. These can include traditional Vietnamese opera and storytelling, western classical arts, and modern staged productions. In addition, it’s a favorable venue for meetings, conferences, various celebrations, and international fashion shows.
Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera
In 1993, the in-house Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO) was established. Besides frequently scheduled performances, major events feature artists from around the world.
Recently in 2021, they produced ‘The Great German Three B’s in association with the Hanoi Symphony Orchestra. The concert highlighted some amazing pieces of the three renowned composers — Beethoven, Bruch, and Brahms. Also, a Neo-classical Ballet event earlier in the year was also a great success.
Lune Production Shows
Lune Production has been gaining national and international recognition thanks to their spectacularly choreographed performances. They frequently appear at both the Saigon Opera House, the Hanoi Opera House, and recently reached Hoi An.
The weekly schedule at the Saigon Opera House includes A O Show, Teh Dar, and the Mist. Interestingly, the audience doesn’t need to know Vietnamese as the performances don’t feature dialogue.
A O Show
A O Show depicts a contrast between the exclamation ‘Ah’ towards Vietnamese rural beauty and ‘Oh’ towards rapid urbanization. The entire performance is a unique mix of skillful acrobatics, visual theatrics, and bamboo circus props.
Teh Dar takes the audience into authentic tribal life on the Southwest Highlands of Vietnam. The name means ‘going in circle’ in K’ho’s language.
Spectators experience wild animal hunts, moonlit romance, and jungle tales of death and reincarnation. Additionally, the live music features ethnic gong culture performances, an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Mist tells the story of Southern Vietnamese life on the rice fields. The entire narrative is expressed through Neo-classical ballet, contemporary choreography, and lively visuals.
Hanging Around Saigon Opera House
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Besides being the literal center stage, Saigon Opera House is also a hang-out spot in the evening. Younger generations tend to gather from the building’s pavement to the Lam Son Square across the street. You can simply grab a bite from the street food vendors or sit down for a while.
During the day, you can combine Saigon Opera House performances with other destinations around Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. If you’re looking for a room to stay, the popular 5-star Caravelle Saigon Hotel is right next to it.
Also, the lively Nguyen Hue Walking Street is just on the other side of Lam Son Square. It has a range of food and beverage establishments and the most luxurious accommodation in the city, the Reverie Saigon.
History of the Saigon Opera House
After taking Southern Vietnam in 1863, the French Government invited a theater company to perform for French soldiers in Saigon. Then, the city set up a temporary stage right at the location of the present-day Caravelle.
On the present-day location, construction for the official Opéra de Saïgon started in 1898 and finished in 1900. Between the First and Second World Wars, Saigon Opera House’s financial support came solely from the municipal authority. However, it slowly lost its appeal to the rise of dance halls and nightclubs after the initial success.
Unfortunately, an aircraft bombardment from the Allies of World War II in 1944 caused heavy damage to it. After the French took over Indochina for the second time, Saigon Opera House fell into neglect.
According to the 1954 Geneva Conference, the building became a shelter for French refugees from Northern to Southern Vietnam. In 1955, it received a renovation to serve as the Lower House Assembly for the South Vietnamese Government.
After the Reunification in 1975, the city restored the Saigon Opera House to its original design and purpose. The most recent large-scale restoration and renovation was from 2007 to 2009.
Architecture of the Saigon Opera House
The inspiration for Saigon Opera House comes from the Opéra Garnier in Paris. In addition, the main influence is the flamboyant style of the French Third Republic. It was the work of three French architects Eugène Ferret, Félix Olivier, and Ernest Guichard. These factors create a distinction from the Hanoi Opera House.
The facade is adapted from the Petit Palais of Paris built in the same year. Moreover, it was detailed with two caryatids (Greek architectural column of sculpted female figure) and numerous reliefs. However, the facade received criticism for being too ornate.
At one point, the municipal authority intended to turn Saigon Opera House into a concert hall. This was due to the burden of expense, criticism, and public trend. Instead, they removed the intricate details of the facade, including the caryatids, to modernize the building in 1943. Fortunately, in 1998, the city restored the facade to its original beauty.