50 shades of yellow: Hanoi historic opera house stirs controversy with paint job

By Trinh Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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The new paint color of the Hanoi Opera House. The building was repainted earlier this month, with the new yellow color much flashier than the original one. Photo: Ngoc Thang 
The 104-year-old Hanoi Opera House seems to have taken a page straight from the lookbook of the Saigon Post Office. 
The theater, one of the capital city’s most famous colonial buildings, is now at the center of controversy as experts criticized its management for repainting it without a license and said they were unhappy with its new paint color.
The opera house was repainted earlier this month, with the new yellow color much flashier than the original one.
What is bizarre is that the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism had no idea of the paint job. 
Truong Minh Tien, vice director of the department, said the opera was recognized as a national heritage site and was listed among architectural works that were built before 1954 and needed to be preserved.
Therefore, any renovation project must be approved by the Department of Heritage and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, he said.
Finding the right color
An official of the Department of Heritage told Thanh Nien the opera’s management board had yet to seek permission to repaint the building.
The Hanoi Opera House in 2012. Photo: Ngoc Thang
Since it opened in 1911, the opera house had its first facelift in 1996. According to experts, the project was conducted very thoroughly, with many paint colors being mixed to have the perfect color that was similar to the original light yellow color.
The experts are concerned that the new paint color of the opera was chosen randomly without proper resarching.
Prof. Hoang Dao Kinh, a senior architect who led a team responsible for the 1996 renovation project, said he found the new paint color “unacceptable.”
"That yellow looked like the color of flags signaling the outbreaks of cholera in Hanoi during the colonial days," he said.
Dao Ngoc Nghiem, a former chief architect of Hanoi, said paint job plays an important role in architectural conservation; therefore it is unacceptable when the opera conducted the paint job without a license.
A postcard featuring the Hanoi Opera House in a photo taken in the early 20th century by French photographer Pierre Dieulefils  (1862-1937) 
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Thanh Nien attempted to contact the Hanoi Opera House’s leaders but they declined to comment.
The controversy is very similar to what happened with the renovation project of the Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City this year.
The historic building was also repainted in bright yellow, causing a backlash that eventually forced its management to change the paint color again. 

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