Cover The main auditorium of the revamped Manila Metropolitan Theater

Having completed comprehensive restoration, the Manila Metropolitan Theater opens its doors to the public once again

The revered national cultural treasure, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (the MET) along Padre Burgos Avenue in Manila, has finally completed its so-called “metamorphosis” that began in 2015. In time for the national celebrations of the momentous fifth centenary of the Victory at Mactan and 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) will be opening the doors of the MET for a special programme. Just at the beginning of the year, sneak peek photos of the restored elements of the theatre have gone viral on social media—showing excitement among visual and theatre arts enthusiasts as well as those who once had the chance to step on stage of this historic theatre either to perform or be, at least, enamoured of its productions.

Undoubtedly, the MET is the only existing art deco building of its size and integrity in Asia. A gem of the past, it was designed by the prolific Filipino architect Juan M Arellano who was commissioned by the US government to build what would be the first national theatre of the Philippines. Far different from his previous works that are stately and monochromatic neoclassicism in design, Arellano adapted the fanciful art deco style that originated in the Paris Exposition of 1925. He used familiar native motifs to assert cultural independence, like the country’s distinct flora and fauna for ornamentations, as well as details like bamboo banister railings, carved banana and mango relief and batik mosaic patterns. Arellano was assisted by his elder brother Arcadio and by Isabelo Tampinco, the leading decorative sculptor at the time, to execute the native iconography.

Another striking feature of the building that everybody has been dying to see in its former glory is the decorative window of stained glass on the façade. Kraut Art Glass, a company famous for their art glasses since 1912, was commissioned by Arellano for the alluring stained glass that is the central figure of the main entrance, designed to resemble a proscenium. With its series of pinnacles rising at the top like a crown, the iron grills depicting stylised birds of paradise, the brilliantly coloured tileworks and the sponged multicoloured paint reminiscent of batik, the front of the theatre is indeed an eye-catcher for passers-by.

Since its inauguration on 10 December 1931, the MET was the place to be for opera, ballet, orchestral music, theatre and film. Equipped with the most modern theatre and film projection technologies at the time, it premiered Hollywood films as well as significant Filipino films from local studios like LVN Pictures. At the height of the Japanese Occupation, it continued to house important concerts like the inauguration of the Philippine Republic under Japan. Though surviving the Battle for the Liberation of Manila in 1945, the theatre had its fair share of battle scars. Partial restorations were made since the end of the war but the lustre of the revered cultural gem in the Far East has gone.

Read Also: The Life And Art Of Isabelo Tampinco

Decades after, the MET found its arduous revival under the critical eye of society grand dame Conchita Sunico. She produced modern Filipino musicals like Hindi Kita Malimot, Maalaala Mo Kaya and Dahil Sa Iyo, attracting long queues of audiences. The opening nights were all marked with glamour as all of Manila’s crème de la crème, dressed to the nines, attended.

Acclaimed composers Lucio San Pedro, Ramon Santos, Alfredo Buenaventura have graced the orchestra section of the MET and introduced younger composers such as Danny Tan and Chito Toledo, director Antonio Mabesa and dance mistress Veda Banez. Now National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab staged his first musical Kapinangan at the theatre, thrusting forward his career and Kuh Ledesma’s who played the titular role. Moreover, it also launched the careers of Leo Valdez, Isay Alvarez and Boy Abunda, who was Sunico’s protégé and served on and offstage.

Read Also: Remembering Conchita Sunico: The Philippine Society's First "It Girl" And Grand Dame

On 27 April 2021, the evening show for the quincentennial celebrations will be held at the esteemed theatre. “The event will serve as the maiden show of the MET after 25 years since its closure in 1996,” the NCCA said in a statement.

When it raises its curtains for its much-awaited third act, the iconic symbol of the Philippines’ strong and deep-rooted affinity for the arts, in all its forms, will rise from the wreckage. It will become a beacon of hope for all the Filipino artists waiting for the resumption of public performances once the ongoing health crisis comes to end, knowing that there is a home at the heart of Manila waiting for their return to the spotlight.

Read More: Inside The Manila Metropolitan Theatre Restoration With Then Project Heads Gerard Lico and Timothy Augustus Ong

  • Images(Archival) National Commission for Culture and the Arts
  • PhotographyPaul Sugano (restorations) / NCCA