Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Metropolitan Theatre in Manila, Philippines

Manila City has a huge Performing Arts movement, with a Spanish influence for 300 years and nearly 100 years of U.S. influence, Filipinos have had a long attraction for drama, as in many capitals of America and Europe; stage companies are mixed, official companies, commercial companies, and many groups of student theatre share the field. But on my trip to the Philippines was not going to see its contemporary theater performances, instead I sought expressions linked to tradition, the festival, the ritual, and arrived at a bad time.

My trip to the Philippines was so like many other unintended, but this time I did not touch a single popular festivities, I could not get any information about schedules in theaters or student performances, not a single representation at the state theatres, nothing more apart that concerts and dance (with companies and artists from abroad), and therefore I accepted that I had no encouragement to see and listen to any Musical in Filipino version. I was looking for history, theater tradition, I read a bit and found they had a theatre, a building, which was recognized as one of the most beautiful and important buildings of Philippines, The Metropolitan Theater.

Manila’s Metropolitan Theater is located in the heart of the capital, now displaced as a care-free zone full of dirtiness, a zone contaminated by noise and gases from cars, contaminated by that life of a city that does not stop his movement. Hundreds of years ago there were other major theaters in the same place, maybe a few meters away, and the area was recognized as an important center of cultural activities. Then, in the 30s of last Century, was designed and built this theatre as their national theater, a building that was on a par with those of the richest world capitals. Manila lived an unparalleled wealth since the beginning of the Century, the city was redesigned, increased both the quality of their buildings as their services. There was much money, it was rich, so European artists (Filipino and foreigners) could be paid and many of them came to build, sculpt, paint and perform.

The Metropolitan Theater was designed with the most modern from the new architectural era, the Art Deco. With its vast global expansion, Art Deco could sustain the purity of the style born in France and be mixed with characteristics and specific details to each region's culture . That has been one of my most pleasant experiences while traveling, seeing different types of Art Deco buildings in the world, from Miami to Paris, from Shanghai to Mexico City, from Beirut to Bangkok or in this case in Manila.

The theater was designed in 1931 by Filipino architect Juan M. Guzman Arellano, the lobby wall designed by the famous painter, also Filipino, Fernando Amorsolo, and the sculptures on the facade were designed by the Italian artist Ricardo Monti; details within the regional style, Filipino’s details (plants from the region, objects, etc.), on the walls and ceilings were made by the artist Isabelo Tampingco. Even do much of this work is lost.

The Metropolitan Theater was destroyed during the American reconquest of the Philippines in 1945, Manila had been snatched by the Japanese just before the Second World War and had to come back at any price. The city with its historic buildings and more than 150 000 people died in a few days of bombing, the glory of the 300 years of Spanish colonial era was reduced to a few houses and churches (the church and convent of San Agustin is the only real jewel that remains of the Spanish era, within the so-called "Intramuros"), and the glory of the new wealthy Manila was reduced to nothing; of the beautiful Metropolitan Theater left a few walls and some sculptures.

After the war and a total independence of the Philippines, the theater could be rebuilt in the early 70’s by those gods-chairmen (and chairwomen) of the archipelago, "Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”, who took over the nation for several decades. However, it was third world-kind remodeling, the theater again close for lack of care in the 90's.

During my visit there in November 2008, I saw a building with many dirty and semi destroyed parts, apparently home of some street sellers and vagrants, and with government offices at the back. I understand that new remodeling works have begun, but that works are slow and apparently surrounded by an aura of corruption, but there is a hope in them. (2)

The chaos of the city, their lack of care and the area, it makes me doubt about the functionality of this remodeling, nothing can stand up clean, beautiful and dignified in this place (as you will see in the video).

In my video I tried to show both the beauty of the theatre as the real situation in which it remains, I made the first shots in the noise of the city around it and then changed for a background music, I thought we could enjoy the beauty of the building with a Fauré’s piece as a background.

Seeing this beautiful building in the conditions and the area where it was reminded me those architectural gems of the “Colonia Juarez” and “Santa Maria la Rivera” in Mexico City, jewels also awaiting for a rescue, for a bit of care, But memories did not deceive me, I can assure that the noise and pollution are worse in the city of Manila.

Manila Metropolitan Theatre Slideshow

(1) You can find more pictures and information on the Blog: http://superpasyal.blogspot.com/2006/07/manila-metropolitan-theatre.html
(2) http://senorenrique.blogspot.com/2007/07/renovation-of-metropolitan-theater.html


  1. wow great blogged mr gustavo,
    im jimmy chua toribio,im a member of Mla Metropolitan theater & a production staff of Met from 1984 to 1993. it so sad that the MET didnt last long after restoring in 1990's.i really missed the Met,the shows/the producitions/the chorus/our patrons/the staffs.

  2. Sono la nipote dello scultore Monti
    La ringrazio per i meravigliosi attimi trascorsi immersa nella lettura del suo blog e aver potuto riammirare le meravigliose opere del nonno

  3. If my memory serves me right, a fund from the Australian gov't was handed to Mayor Atienza during his reign as mayor of Manila. I wonder where did the money go. A very minor repair had just been done, and it's the roofing of the Met, aside from that, nothing followed. The funding was supposed to restore the Met to its former glory, now dubbed as the premier art deco building in Manila since the old Jai-alai building has been grounded to Zero, also during the reign if Lito Atienza.


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