Modeled on the Paris Opera designed by Charles Garnier, the Hanoi Opera House, also known as Nha Hat Lon or Big Song House, opened in 1911. It formed the centerpiece of French-Colonial architecture, not just in Hanoi, but in all of French Indochina.
Before World War II, the Opera House was at the center of the city’s cultural life. At the end of the French rule, however, it gradually fell into disrepair. During the years prior to the nation’s economic and cultural liberalization in the late 1980s, visiting Chinese or Russian artistes would appear. Perfor- mances such as the militant ballet Red Detachment of Women or a musical recital by an ensemble from Kiev, now in the Ukraine, were held here. By the mid-1980s, even these limited cultural exchanges had ceased, and the Opera House was all but abandoned. Then, in 1994, the authorities decided to restore and reopen the Opera in a three-year project costing US$14 million. Today, the colonnaded building, with refurbished gilt mirrors and grand stairways, is a magnificent sight. The 600-seat theater, boasting state-of-the-art audio facilities, stages Vietnamese operetta, ballets, and piano recitals. Home to the Hanoi Symphony Orchestra, it also hosts shows by visiting com- panies such as the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.