Most people are not happy with Valletta’s Pjazza Teatru Rjal and many prefer the original structure or would like it to be roofed over, according to a survey.
The former Royal Opera House was destroyed in a World War II aerial bombing 80 years ago this month and its ruins were only integrated into an open-air theatre a decade ago.
But when asked in a government-commissioned survey if the site should remain as it is or change, 65 per cent of respondents said it should change.
The survey found that the most popular proposal for any changes to the site was to rebuild it to its former pre-war glory.
Respondents were asked to select their preferred three proposals: 56.3 per cent said they wanted the theatre to be built to its original structure, 44.5 per cent said they liked the idea of having a retractable roof and 38.1 per cent said it should be closed over one way or the other. Respondents could pick more than one option.
The survey, commissioned by former national heritage minister Josè Herrera and carried out by statistician Vincent Marmarà in July 2021, gathered the views of 600 people over the age of 16.
The survey results have only been published now.
There has been long-standing controversy about what to do with the site that was once Malta’s prime theatrical venue, graced by world-renowned opera singers.
Built in 1866, the building, designed by prominent English architect Edward Middleton Barry, was gutted by fire seven years later and repaired before being devastated in the April 7, 1942 attack.
It remained in ruins for over six decades as a debate ebbed and flowed over whether it should be rebuilt in its original form or whether the site should be used for something else.
At one point, it became a parking lot.
Its ruins were eventually incorporated into the open theatre that formed part of world-renowned architect Renzo Piano’s plans for City Gate and Pjazza Teatru Rjal and was inaugurated on August 8, 2013, standing as a monument to the Maltese who stood against enemy action.
For many, especially tourists, the City Gate project was possibly the finest public architectural project of the 21st century.
Six years later, then finance minister Edward Scicluna announced that a public consultation on the roofing of the site would be launched, as part of the 2020 Budget.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s recent electoral manifesto promised that it would be turned into a “year-round” prominent cultural spot and spoke about a “general agreement” that it should be roofed.
Herrera told Times of Malta that, following the survey results, the government had decided to move ahead with the roofing of the theatre and commission Piano to carry out the project.
Herrera said meetings were held with Piano’s office and proposals discussed but there was no final decision on how the theatre would be roofed.
It is not clear how Culture Minister Owen Bonnici will now move forward with these plans.
The open-air theatre has suffered from the whims of the weather and constant complaints by neighbours about noise.
It is also unpopular with the artistic community who complained about logistical issues that include coordinating rehearsals between sittings of parliament, located next door, and performances being interrupted by street noise.