The ‘Grand Dame’ of Manila rises from its ashes
They say every place has its own rhythm. The way conversations echo, the way a show encapsulates you, the way silently standing objects influence the poetic motions of living beings—the sum of these things, and more. To say the least, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (or simply the Met) is an example of this type of perfect symphony.
It has been 90 years since the Met was inaugurated on Dec. 10, 1931. Being the only existing Art Deco building of its size and integrity in Asia, it has been declared a National Cultural Treasure and a National Historical landmark, offering a home for talented singers, conductors, composers, musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers, and dancers from around the Philippines as well as foreign talents. Manila’s Architectural Art Deco gem is nestled near the Merhan Garden, located at the corner of Padre Burgos Avenue and Arroceros Street, near the Manila Central Post Office.
On Friday, Dec. 10, the “Grand Dame” of Manila officially reopened its doors to the public. NCCA Chairman Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso spearheaded the event with a ribbon cutting, immediately followed by the unveiling of its marker and a commemorative corner.
The Met married a virtual and physical show that brought guests back in time, commemorating the best of Philippine performance arts such as “Remembering Conching: Hindi Kita Malimot” by Josefino Cenizal, arranged by Krina Cayabyab and performed by Jade Riccio.
During the program, the people responsible for its restoration and reopening were recognized including former Presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, as well as current President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
The celebration was filled with extravagant and mesmerizing performances by renowned Filipino artists like pianist Raul Sunico and stage performers Dulce, Celeste, Legaspi, Beverly Salvejo, together with Robert and Isay Ceña. The Ryan Cayabyab singers were also present as the Manila Symphony Orchestra accompanied them under the baton of Marlon Chen. They performed songs composed by the National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, including “Pasulong Muli Ang Met!” This had lyrics written by Floy Quintos and it serves as the Manila Metropolitan Theater’s theme song.
“This is our cultural link to the glorious past and it should open the door to our people’s thriving cultural future.” says Lizaso.
Strolling along its painstakingly decorated halls is a story in and of itself. The public can once again witness murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo that adorn the lobby. Its magnificent central stained-glass window, stylized in tropical sunshine of a floral pattern, is definitely difficult to miss. The Met is an enclave of the arts, holding within its decadent architecture stories of Filipino artists past and present, yearning to sing and dance to even more local art in the future.
Walking outside, having a second glance before leaving, one realizes that the heart of the Manila Metropolitan Theater never ceased beating, it just took a long break. Yes, it took quite a long detour, wearing numerous masks by briefly becoming a boxing arena, a motel, a basketball court, and even a home for illegal settlers, before it closed down for restoration. But now, it’s back, waking up from its deep sleep, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
From the unveiling of the first marker up until Friday evening’s last performance, the revival of this historic Art Deco building is an experience one can relive for a lifetime. Truly, the reopening of the Manila Metropolitan Theater is a gift for generations to come. (With a report from Noel Pabalate)