A fine example of turn of the century French colonial architecture, the Saigon Opera House, also known as the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, represents the French colonial heart of the city.
The opera house is the epicentre of Dong Khoi St, formerly Rue Catinat: up the street is Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office, down the street is Hotel Majestic and the river. The well-heeled French colonialists loved theatre and naturally, the Theatre de Saigon was opened in 1900, an indulgent 2.5 million Franc project. Opera productions and symphonies were brought in all the way from France for performances.
It hit a rough patch during World War II and the Japanese occupation of the city when Allied bombing heavily damaged the exterior facade of the building and the theatre suspended operations.
It reopened when the city returned to French hands, however, there were more tumultuous times ahead and it served a variety of functions outside of the scope of theatre, such as a refuge for French citizens after the Geneva Accords (1954), as well as the home of the Lower House of the State of Vietnam. In the 1970s the building once again became a theatre but was seldom used and slowly deteriorated. In honour of the 300th anniversary of the city of Saigon in 1998, the building was renovated into a fine, respectable theatre.
The theatre continues to be operational and attending a show is the only way to get inside and take a closer look. Of course, it now boasts air-con, modern lighting and sound. Originally constructed with 800 seats, it now comfortably fits 468. The building retains some of its old world charm.
The Opera House is mainly used by Lune Production—A O Show is their headliner but when it goes on tour, the other shows like Teh Dar are equally worthy (see our review of Teh Dar for full details). Their shows express Vietnamese culture through a mix of acrobatics, contemporary dance, live music and “bamboo cirque”, gravity defying performance using something as natural and ordinary as bamboo. Prices remain reasonable, 630,000 dong to 1,470,000 dong, and before the show, there are three time slots that guests can join for a hurried 10-minute tour. There is a guide but with so many people, it is difficult to hear anything. In any case, this is the opportunity to take lots of photos of the theatre.
Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera also call the theatre home. The programme includes classical concerts, opera and Vietnamese contemporary music and dance.
The box office is at the side of the building. In good weather A O Show staff also sell tickets in front of the doors. Box Office open daily 09:00-18:00.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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