At the entrance of Valletta, next to the new House of Parliament, stand the ruins of the Royal Opera House. This ‘Teatro dell’Opera’ was built in 1861 on the site of a demolished house, known as ‘Casa La Giornata’, the residence of the Turcopilier of the Auberge d’Angleterre (English Auberge).
There were several reasons which led to the building of a new Opera House at Valletta. The Manoel Theatre had become too small to house an ever increasing number of people. The Manoel’s stage became too small to stage certain type of operas such as those of Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi. The number of tourists visiting the island was increasing, some wanted to visit this theatre for an opera night. The need for a new bigger theatre was being felt and an English architect Edward M. Barry was chosen for the project. The facade of the Opera House was typically Corinthian and it had a colonnade on all its sides. Its cost amounted to £60,000 which was a huge sum of money at the time.
An attraction of this theatre was the salon, which was placed over the entrance hall. This hall was lit by five large windows. The theatre’s painting-room and the workshops were on the roof. As the Opera House was one of Valletta’s attractions, the local government tried its best to manage this ‘musical heaven’. The day to day running was left in the hands of a committee which was appointed by the government of the day. By time the new theatre started to be very popular with both the Maltese and the families of the British servicemen who were stationed in Malta. The village elite used to dress up in their best attire and hire a ‘karozzin’ (Maltese traditional horse-driven coach) to take them to Valletta to watch an opera at this theatre.
The Royal Opera House opened on the night of 9 October, 1866, with Bellini’s famous opera ‘I Puritani’. Month after month, year after year, the opera seasons went on uninterruptedly, even during the First World War. There was only one exception; that is a brief interruption from 1874 to 1877 following a fire. This incident had destroyed the theatre’s interior fittings and decorations. It was reopened on 11 October, 1877, with Verdi’s new opera Aida. The theatre became more beautiful with boxes in five tiers and a pit which could accommodate more than 1,000 persons.
The Second World War brought the end of a long story of famous operas, composers’ visits and resonant voices. During this great war, one direct hit from an air attack brought the theatre to its knees. There were many attempts to rebuild the Royal Opera House. In the end it was decided to convert the site into an open-air theatre known as Pjazza Teatru Rjal.