Designed by Italian architect Genaro Ruggeri, Panama’s National Theater is a beautiful example of the neoclassical architecture that arrived to the isthmus at the turn of the 19th century.
Commissioned in 1904 as part of a package of infrastructure improvements, the theater was built on the site of a former convent in Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s old town. The project was awarded to the Duque & Arias firm and supervised by Panamanian engineer Florencio Armodio Arosemena.
It opened on October 1, 1908 with a presentation of Guiseppe Verdi’s Aida to celebrate the inauguration of President Jose Domingo de Obaldia, the second president of the republic. Admission that night was $1 for gallery seats and $40 to sit at the front of the house.
Inside, the theater can accommodate over 850 spectators under a magnificent plafond fresco by the Panamanian master Roberto Lewis, who also painted much of the artwork in the Presidential Palace, including the murals in the Yellow Room that depict the discovery of the Panamanian Isthmus and the Pacific Ocean and Panama’s independence. Lewis studied art in France under Leon Bonat and later with Albert Dubois-Pillet.
It has undergone two renovations and continues to host a variety of national and international productions including classical music concerts, operas, ballets and theater.