Softly, very softly, the Metropolitan Theatre opened on 29 April at five o'clock in the afternoon. For those who do not know or have forgotten, it is near the Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton) and the Post Office and a stone's throw away from the City Hall of Manila.
Three agencies are involved in the restoration of the Met-- the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the GSIS and the City Government of Manila. Precisely because it was soft, the opening was not be a glittering social event, like it was when then First Lady Imelda Marcos re-inaugurated the theatre in the 1970's.
Champagne did not flow; there were no canpes from Via Mare; no blare of trumpets from the Maniila Symphony, the Met's in-house orchestra; instead, the much-awarded Manila City Band was there to welcome guests with festive melodies.
The lavish ballroom with fabled chandeliers will remain closed until phase 5 of the restoration work is completed. The two Amorsolo murals are kept in the GSIS museum. However, the guests admired the intricate Art Deco grill work at the lobby as well as the graceful statues by Francesco Monti, the muses of music and song.
Realistic and doable were the priorities of work phases 1 to 4. The enormous roof had to be repaired and meticulously sealed, then the unscrambling, debundling, reconnecting of old light and water connections which took forever; the partial rehabilitation of the proscenium, the more thorough refitting of the stage and its appurtenant equipment and dressing rooms; the recurrent, baffling inundation of the orchestra pit was finally solved.
There were no rows of red velvet cushioned chairs, the Marcos vintage ones had disappeared, cannibalized perhaps like the unique costume collection. But, the guests were comfortable enough. There was passing cooling, no air- conditioning. The Manila Historical and Heritage Commission distributed souvenir fans with the picture of the Metropolitan Theatre.
The show affirmed its metamorphosis into a real people's theatre. It consisted of excerpts of councilor Lou Veloso's "Senakulo", a song from "Baler, the musical" , Asia's Queen of song, Pilita Corrales, brought the house down with an emotive rendition of "A Million Thanks". Significantly, the same singer-actor who played the Filipino revolutionary in "Baler" also portrayed Jesus Christ in the "Senakulo" reminding the audience that our anti-colonial struggle for Independence was, at one time, expressed through the passion of Christ. "Pasyon at Rebolusyon" is the favorite thesis of Filipino historian, Rey Ileto.
Mayor Alfredo S. Lim and Vice-Mayor Francisco Domagoso arrived dramatically, in open carriages which they rode during a city-wide motorcade--they were campaigning. Enthusiastic about the Met opening, they stayed until the end so did Gloria Romero, German Moreno, Cecile G. Alvarez and other notables. There were more than eight hundred students from the public schools of Manila, teachers and principals, barangay folk and their officials , a smattering of foreigners who had read about the soft opening on line and people who just walked in to marvel. It was standing room only!