I was delighted to read recent news about the rebuilding (again!) of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. I
remember how beautiful she used to be.
I am grateful, but don’t know who to thank, that she has not been relegated to the dust heap along with the Jai Alai Building. I insist we have no sense of history. But let’s leave that for another Sunday.
I went online.
In 1862, “durante el tiempo de España,” the Teatro del Principe Alfonso XII was built on Plaza Arroceros. It was intended to provide fine entertainment for Spanish officials and ilustrados. But the Teatro burned down and was never rebuilt.
In 1924, during American colonial times, the idea of building a theater in Manila resurfaced. But it took several years before the Philippine Legislature approved the plan. The site designated was an 8,000-plus square-meter parcel in the old Mehan Garden.
Juan M. Arellano, one of the first Philippine pensionados in architecture, designed the Met. He started out as a painter under the tutelage of art masters including Fabian de la Rosa. But he became an architect instead and went on to design the Legislative Building, the Manila Central Post Office building and Jones Bridge, among other famous landmarks.
I remember that “La Legislatura” and “El Puente Jones” were destroyed in the battle of Manila in 1945. It was incredibly sad to see those glorious structures reduced to rubble. The post office was badly damaged.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater, also known as the Grand Old Dame of Manila, was built in 1930 and inaugurated December 10, 1931, exactly a year before I was born.
I have many vivid memories (although maybe not too accurate a timeline) of spending many hours there.
We watched ballet, operas and operettas and Spanish zarzuelas. I remember “La Viuda Alegre,” “Luisa Fernanda,” “La Leyenda del Monje,” to name a few.
And I will never forget standing in the wings peeking between freshly painted backdrops, to watch my mother transform into the unforgettable Mimi for Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
This was all during the war. We rode a dokar to the theater. I was always afraid our horse would slip and fall on Quezon Bridge. Sometimes we walked. But we had to contend with bowing to Japanese sentries. Not a fun thing either way.
I remember the Met: stunning stained glass at the entrance, massive wrought-iron gates in front of the lobby, detailed murals depicting the arts and the faces of drama close to the vaulted ceiling.
Backstage, the dressing rooms had low windows facing Mehan Garden.
Opening night of “La Boheme,” a little girl gave me three gardenias through the heavy iron grills. I believed it was a sign. I had been praying for Rodolfo to “please, God,” hit that high note when he and Mimi exit at the end of Act I. It was! He did!
During the bloody liberation of Manila, the roof and walls of the Met were badly battered by heavy artillery. After some patch-up work, it came back as a boxing arena, later as a sleazy “motel,” and eventually was overrun by “informal settlers.” Disgraceful.
It reopened in 1978. But ownership squabbles forced it to close down. The dispute was finally settled in 2015. At last the National Commission on Culture and Arts can start restoration.
I can’t wait to see the Pink Lady again. I wonder if she will be restored as regal and splendid as she used to be. Maybe I can dare dream that the grandson of that incredible “Mimi” will one day sing on the same stage as his Lola.
One more time
A friend commented on one of my old Sunday columns where I wrote about young people and their electronic devices. She said I was too gentle and had not offered any alternatives. Apparently, she has a problem with her children.
I reviewed the old piece. Was she right? What made me pull my punches? Did the fact that I had the same problem make me gun-shy?
I ask: How young are these young people and where did they get their gadgets in the first place? Did they buy it themselves with their saved up allowance? Did you set up rules? Guidelines? Limits maybe? If you didn’t, why are you surprised?
“One was a birthday gift, another a reward for good marks in school.”
Back in the day, I used to treat my kids to a movie and ice cream.
These are, indeed, different times. Our social dynamic has changed drastically.
When my grandchildren come to visit, the first thing they look for is a plug for their chargers. The niceties and conversation can wait. They ask how I am and in the same breath ask for my password. And guess what. I give it to them.
But they know my limits and are careful not to overstep them. They consider my feelings. I get respect. And lots of love.
I am happy. I want them in my casita. I wouldn’t give that up for anything in the world.
I stash all kinds of goodies in what they call my “apo-gerator.” See’s chocolates. Crunchies. Choc Nut. Ice cream.
While they eat, I talk to them. They listen.
And when they don’t, I get my laptop. I work.
I now choose my battles. If you can’t lick them, join them.