The Municipal Theatre, also know as Saigon Opera House, is an architectural work of Gothic style. This is not only a place to performance arts and other important events, it is also an interesting tourist destination, attracting many visitors come to admire.

History of the Municipal Theatre in Ho Chi Minh City

After the invasion of Cochinchina and the establishment of a colony, in order to be able to serve the main legions, French colonists invited a theatre company to Saigon.

At first, the group performed temporarily at the wooden house of the French admiral at the Dong Ho Square (Place de l’Horloge) (at present corner of Nguyen Du – Dong Khoi streets). After that, a temporary theater was set up at the Caravelle Hotel. In 1898, the construction of the new theater was commenced right next to the old one and on January 1, 1900, it was inaugurated.

Municipal Theatre

The view outside of the old theatre

In 1944, due to the Allied aerial attacks with many damages, the theater had stopped functioning. After the French army surrendered to Viet Minh during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The theatre became a temporary shelter for residence of French migrants from the North to the South under the agreement of Geneva Accords.

Through 1955, the theater was restored and converted into the headquarters of the National Assembly. During the period 1955-1975, the municipal theater only did political work. The face of the building was changed to suit the new function, the small patterns continued to be completely removed, and the round columns were demolished. The architecture creates square lines to suit the position of a political meeting headquarters.

Municipal Theatre in Saigon

However, after the “Fall of Saigon” in 1975, the building was restored to its original function as a theatre. In 1998, when the theater’s restoration was completed and political meetings were no longer held here. At this time, the two stone statues of goddesses in front of the theater have been restored, returning the theater space to its artistic performance function, no longer suitable for political purposes.

Municipal Theatre

The current view of municipal theatre in Ho Chi Minh City

Architecture of the municipal theatre

The municipal theatre is a smaller counterpart of the Hanoi Opera House, designed by a group of French architects, Félix Olivier, Eugène Ferret and Ernest Guichard. The architectural style of the project is characterized by an ingenious combination between architecture and sculpture.The decoration and sculpture are very important, from the outside to the interior that covered with many reliefs and statues.

Municipal Theatre

The front of the theater is clearly influenced by the Petit Palais Museum (which displays many works of art from the Ancient to the late 19th century) built in the same year in Paris, France. The façade is made of a large arch divided by 3 doors to welcome guests, decorated with highlights by 2 columns that touch the shape of women following the style of Greece Caryatids at Erechtheion.

These two statues were removed when the building used as the National Assembly of the Saigon government between 1955 – 1975. (photo source: vnexpress)

Above the forehead of the wall under the façade is a mural with 5 goddesses painted on the facade tiles, surrounded a small pediment with carving a goddess and flowers, and below is the words ” Nhà Hát Thành Phố” – (means municipal theatre) replace the original “Théatre Municipal” from the French period.

The five figures in the arch are France and the four seasons: Printemps – Spring, Été – Summer, Automne – Autumn and Hiver – Winter (from left to right).

  • Printemps – Spring wears a wreath of white flowers on her head, symbolizing innocence, beginnings and vitality.
  • Été – With a Brown-haired Lady, Summer has a mature and serious beauty, symbolizes the maturity stage in the life cycle.
  • France (located in the middle) – The image of a woman symbolizing the spirit of France was popular in French art of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Automne – Autumn wears a large white chrysanthemum wreath on her head – a symbol of Autumn.
  • Hiver: the hard coldness of winter is illustrated by the cloak on Winter nymph. The color greed of the cloak, to Much, stands for future growth.

The main highlight of the theater is the statue of two angels sitting side by side honoring the Lyre guitar, which is typical of Roman-Greece myth, below is a cartouche that originally carves two words “RF” (short for Republique Francaises) and below is the head of Pan, the god of country music. All of the façade sculptures and decoration of the façade constitute the “flamboyant” trend of art in France at that time.

Municipal Theatre in HCMC

The view at the top with a motif of two angels sitting next to each other, in the middle is a Lyre typical of Greek mythology.

The interior of the theater is modernly designed with a full range of sound and lighting systems. In addition to the ground floor, there are 2 seating floors above. The capacity of the theater is up to 500 seats of which the ground floor has 338 seats, the second floors have 130 seats to serve audiences enjoying multi-genre art programs.

Inside view of Municipal Theatre

Inside view of municipal theatre in HCMC from above

Looking at the auditorium from the stage, one can clearly see the dome-shaped ceiling with sophisticated patterns bearing the flamboyant architectural style. The auditorium space is decorated with many relief details and classic lighting, bringing a luxurious feeling.

Saigon Opera house

(photo source: vnexpress)

Performing Arts Programs at Ho Chi Minh City Theater

Worthy of the name Cathedral of Arts, the City Theater is the stage for many types of performances from opera, chamber music, dance genres, musicals and more. World-famous artists also often choose this theater as a performance place. If you intend to watch a performance at the Municipal Theatre, below are some extremely worthy shows for you to consider:

A O Show

The performance uniquely combines many art genres such as acrobatics, bamboo circus, contemporary dance combine with traditional Vietnamese music. The one-hour performance of the show definitely takes the audience to the authentic Southern countryside with strong emotions that sometimes you will keep saying “Ah”, “Oh”!

A O Show in Municipal Theatre

The Mist

“The Mist: Morning Mist” is a play that shows the lives of Vietnamese people. The story focuses on the tradition of rice farming, a symbol of Vietnamese agriculture. Actors will perform neoclassical and modern dances, skillfully choreographed to represent the lives of farmers from dawn to harvest. After the show, you may also fall in love with the country’s traditional costumes when the wooden clogs, ao dai, and four-piece dresses in the show appeared more beautiful than ever.

The Mist show in Municipal Theatre

Other programs and ticket fare

Along with many Vietnamese music shows held at the municipal theater, there are symphony of talented composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach… attracting not only for local but also foreigners come to enjoy. 

Classic show "Ballet Carmen" in Saigon Opera house

Classic show “Ballet Carmen”

If you want to visit, you can buy tickets to watch shows at the ticket counter or on the Theater’s website. After finishing the performance, you can walk around to admire the architecture and take photos to check in here.

Ticket fare:

  • Special program: 150,000 – 900,000 VND/ticket;
  • Regular program: 80,000 – 650,000 VND/ticket.

Located at 7 Dong Khoi Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, overlooking Le Loi Street, the Municipal Theatre, is an ideal discovery for visitors. The theater is not only an architectural – cultural work, but it also an associated with the city’s history, contributing to the charm and elegance of Ho Chi Minh city.

Source: collected by An