This gem of a theater has been open on and off since 1732, and was built by a wealthy Grand Master of the Knights of St John during a period of great political stability and wealth in Malta to provide entertainment for the troops. Mannerist on the outside and all gold and gilt opulence on the inside, the main auditorium has a delicately patterned blue and gold trompe l'oeil ceiling and seats just totaling 623. The first performance here was of the Italian tragedy Merope by Scipione Maffei, in which all the parts were played by members of the Knights of St John. Over the centuries, the theater has expanded and gobbled up other buildings. The neighboring Casa Bonici has been incorporated into the complex, adding a white marble staircase to the theater foyer and providing a pretty courtyard bar.
The theater plays a major part in the Maltese arts scene. The repertoire includes opera, ballet, classical concerts, and jazz and rock concerts as well as the occasional Maltese folk concert. International stars who have performed here include violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin, soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich; visiting companies have included Berlin State Ballet and the Comédie-Française.
The small Manoel Theatre Museum showcases costumes, wigs and scenery from three centuries of theatrical tradition on Malta, plus a display on the Royal Opera House, which was destroyed by bombing in World War II.
Manoel Theatre is found in pedestrianized Valletta and is a 10-minute walk from the bus terminus. For drivers, there is designated parking outside the City Gate.
Every Wednesday there is a free classical concert in one of the recital rooms and there is a year-round program of festivals, from orchestral to comedy. The Manoel Theatre Museum is open only for guided tours lasting 45 minutes from Mondays to Fridays starting at 10:15am; the MaltaPass can be used here.