The National Theater
The intimate Teatro Nacional (National Theater, between Calle 2 and Calle 3 on Avenida B, 9:30 A.M.–5:30 P.M. Mon.–Fri.) holds classical concerts and other posh events. It was built in 1908 on the site of an 18th-century monastery. It’s housed in the same building as the Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia (Ministry of Government and Justice), which has its entrance on Avenida Central, across the street from Manolo Caracol, a fun restaurant.
Inaugurated on October 1, 1908, the neobaroque theater is worth a brief visit between concerts to get a glimpse of its Old World elegance. The public can explore it during the week but not on weekends. The first performance here was a production of the opera Aida, and for about 20 years the theater was a glamorous destination for the city’s elite. (Note the bust of the ballerina Margot Fonteyn in the lobby; she married a Panamanian in 1955 and lived out the last part of her life in Panama.) But after that it gradually deteriorated.
A 1974 restoration brought it back to life until the rainy season of 2000 wrought serious damage. The ceiling is covered with faded but still colorful frescos of cavorting naked ladies, painted by Roberto Lewis, a well-known Panamanian artist. Leaks in the roof destroyed about a quarter of these frescos, and the roof partially collapsed. The roof was restored and the theater reopened in 2004. Be sure to walk upstairs to take a look at the opulent reception rooms.
A bit of local color: Old-timers remember the days before air-conditioning, when performances were sometimes drowned out by traffic noise and heavy rains wafting through the open doors. Occasionally a bat would zoom into the gallery, adding a bit of unplanned excitement.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition