Asmara Theater and Opera House

The Asmara’s Opera is a building housing the “Opera” theater in the capital of Eritrea, Asmara. It was built according to the plans of Italian architect Odoardo Cavagnari in 1918 and improved with enlargements in 1936.

The building combines elements of Romanesque Revival and neoclassicism. The painting of the ceiling of the auditorium shows the tendencies of the Art Nouveau. Indeed, the roof has paintings by Saverio Fresa with dance images. It was one of the most famous buildings in Italian Asmara.

The building was erected on a hillside, at the eastern end of the north side of today’s Harriet Avenue (the old “Corso Italia”, later named “Corso Mussolini” and now the main road of Asmara) and at the corner with Beleza Street. This location made possible to make the ascent to the Opera as a monumental staircase, which is circled on both sides by a shell-shaped fountain and a Renaissance – loggia with Corinthian columns. The rest of the exterior of the building, especially the Beleza Street side facing, is castle-like, designed with battlements and towers. From the porch it is possible to reach the Foyer, which in turn gives access to the huge “Auditorium”. This has, in addition to the Parquet floor, three additional levels and can have 750 spectators. The stage is relatively small and without further technical equipment.

In 1938 the international car race called Asmara circuit was started exactly in front of the Opera building, on the “Viale Roma” (now called “Sematat Avenue”)

The building was named Teatro Asmara until after being purchased by Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1952 from the Italian owners far below the market value. After the independence of Eritrea in 1991/93 it was dispossessed and is now back in state-owned property In the foyer, there is now a cafe, and in a side building, the headquarters of the national telephone company Eritel.

In the Asmara’s Opera were performed many “Commedie” and opera works like those of Pirandello and music by Puccini and Verdi, with soprano from the best theaters in Italy: for example, in 1951 was performed “La Patente” of Pirandello and music of Chopin.

After World War II and until the 1970s in the Asmara Opera performed even international companies with famous “artistic & musical tours”, like those of Renato Rascel and Renato Carosone. The theater was still occasionally used in 2012.