TODAY?S GENERATION probably never heard of the Manila Grand Opera House.
But those who remember have recollections of a place considered a landmark of Filipino heritage, a venue where important historical and cultural events were held and a magnificent stage where early Philippine theater flourished.
As the attractions of home entertainment were made available through television and cinemas became favorite family destinations, the glory of the old opera house faded until it finally closed down decades ago.
But now that the site where the MGOH once stood is being developed into a hotel and casino complex, it may soon regain the grandeur and glamour that the premier live entertainment venue of pre-war Manila was well known for.
Situated at the busy intersection of Rizal Avenue and Doroteo Jose Street, the soon to open Manila Grand Opera Hotel boasts of the modern amenities of a luxury hotel.
Lawrence Tan, the hotel general manager, was quick to add that the new establishment would strive to maintain its historic ambiance as a venue of arts and culture shows, providing visitors and clientele a glimpse of its colorful past.
The MGOH was the venue in the 1900s for performances by both local and foreign stars. Cristina Lanonico-Buenaventura, in her book ?Theater in Manila 1846-1946,? said it was the place for visiting opera companies, Rizal Day celebrations and assemblies of national significance, including the inauguration of the first Philippine Assembly on Oct. 16, 1907, by United States Secretary of War William Howard Taft.
In the 1890s, the venue, which was then made of a circular wooden structure with a nipa roof, was called H.T. Hashim?s National Cycle Track before its name was changed to Teatro Nacional where the Russian Circus and some American theater companies performed.
Several years later, in 1902, the teatro became MGOH after it was transformed into an opera house by Italian impresario Balzofiore in time for a visiting Italian opera company.
Seats were divided into three classifications: Palco proscenio for the dignitaries, butaca or orchestra for most theatergoers, and gallery, the least expensive section.
The theater?s most celebrated feature was said to be its acoustics, allowing even the softest whisper to be clearly heard.
However, in 1942, after about two decades of hosting opera and zarzuela productions, a new owner, Toribio Teodoro, known as the ?shoe king of the Philippines, acquired the property. He lived there when the Japanese seized his house and shoe factory during World War II.
A series of unfortunate events then happened one after the other: The structure was badly damaged by flood the following year and burned down a few months later.
But right after the war, reconstruction of the building began. Equipped with the latest technology, the structure was intended to be a first-class cinema for cultural shows. Eventually, MGOH was dubbed as ?The Theater with a History.?
It provided daily entertainment for the masses. For 85 centavos, people got to watch a stage show and a movie.
Its main fare were stage shows and movies with an occasional concert, opera and plays by stage and movie director (and later, National Artist) Lamberto Avellana and Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, among others.
It was said to be the ?ultimate? place for singers, dancers and stage players to perform and it was where famous icons of vaudeville and the zarzuela, including Atang de la Rama, Jovita Fuentes and Katy de la Cruz, reached the peak of stardom.
The MGOH also provided then future screen idols Rogelio de la Rosa and Leopoldo Salcedo and even comedians like Dolphy and Panchito, Bayani Casimiro, Pugo and Tugo, Tugak and Pugak, Dely Atay-atayan and Chichay, among others, the boost they needed in their careers.
The opera house, which by the ?60s had been transformed into a movie theater, was bought by former Ambassador to Laos Antonio Cabangon Chua from the heirs of Teodoro.
?It was only this year that plans for building the hotel were conceptualized,? Tan said, adding that the hotel aims to serve both as a reminder of the site?s historic past as well as a showcase of the latest amenities of a first-class hotel.
Posters of different plays staged at the MGOH as well as the copies of scripts used by the artists will be displayed at the hotel rooms and halls, he said, adding that a historical and culture corner at the lobby will showcase photographs, paintings, artifacts, memorabilia and news clippings about the events the opera house had hosted and personalities who performed there.
?That?s what makes our hotel unique in the industry,? the 26-year-old hotel executive said.
Tan added that that hotel staff, including waiters and receptionists, would be clad in uniforms that have a ?touch? of vaudeville.
?They?ll be wearing colorful uniforms, something with ruffles or something reminiscent of costumes used during MGOH theater plays,? he explained.
He also said that they intend to get in touch with surviving former artists or their relatives to ask them if they would be willing to share their mementos during their stints at the MGOH.
?A famous singer is now looking for the gown she used during one of her performances at the opera house and she promised to donate it once she finds it,? Tan disclosed. ?We would gladly accept anything that would remind people about the artists? or the institution?s legacy.?
The 205-room, eight-story hotel is set to open by the end of the month, but its second building remains under construction and is expected to be fully operational before the end of the year, Tan added.
?The hotel will provide each guest a feeling of nostalgia and will relive Manila?s glorious artistic and cultural past while enjoying a timeless enclave of luxury and class,? he said with pride.
Tan also hopes that the opening of the hotel would pave the way for the area?s urban renewal of sorts.
?Let?s face it, our location is not really an ideal place for a luxury hotel since it can be quite noisy, even chaotic. Several motels and clubs offering nude shows abound in the area. And for the past several decades, the place was a blight in the landscape. People tried to avoid it because it had gained notoriety for various crime incidents,? he said.
?But we intend to use whatever we have around to our advantage, like the Light Rail Transit which will be connected to one of our entrances, giving our guests easy access to any place they wish to go to,? Tan said.
He added: ?We?re also working hand in hand with the city government on the street lighting program, as well as with people in the nearby community, including out of school youth and street children, who we intend to train as hotel workers.?