The house that Barry built

If there is a subject that rallies the country's collective conscience every time it surfaces, it has to be the Royal Opera House, in Valletta.

It is also a subject close to the heart of entrepreneur Joe Galea who recently took ownership of Heritage Homes, the firm that specialises in models of landmark buildings and historic sites.

Mr Galea, who produces and markets innovative souvenirs of Malta, has reached another milestone in his line of creations with a scale model of the Royal Opera House.

"Managing to complete this model has given me the confidence to go for more intricate and complicated designs for our future collection," Mr Galea said.

Research included ferreting out the original drawings and collecting as many photographs as possible of the first version of the opera house - the original structure was burned down in1873.

"The opera house had so much external detail which would be lost unless you come to a point where you can mentally see it in 3D projection. You have to start thinking as an architect.

"You know you are close to starting the model when you can shut your eyes and still visualise it in its entirety.

"I also had to decide whether to do a copy of the original building or else the one that was built after the first one was burned down."

In his book British Colonial Architecture: Malta 1800-1900, Malcolm Borg writes: "The building (the opera house) inaugurated in October of 1866 was insured for 12,000 pounds. However, the 'fire prevention' could not have been that efficient since the 'fine building' built by the most lavish of Governors (Sir Gaspard La Marchant) was destroyed by fire seven years later."

New plans on the original designs were drawn up for a new theatre and this time the building was completely fireproof.

Edward Middleton Barry designed the opera house in 1861 as a development of Covent Garden in London, which had been inaugurated three years earlier.

His father, Sir Charles, had designed the Houses of Parliament in London.

Why did Mr Galea opt for the Royal Opera House?

"Although I don't remember the opera house, I have always been impressed by the clamour that rises every so often by those people who would like to see it built again as it was.

"With this model, they can at least have one in their home or office.

"I got the same reaction from my wife, Tania, as I was finishing the model when she remarked how beautiful the opera house must have been.

"The model allows you to see the building, including the roof, in 3D, which is impossible to do from photographs."

Mr Galea believes the opera house should be rebuilt by copying Barry's exterior but adapting the inside to uses that will make it sustainable.

"I am thinking along the lines of Malta creating an international icon with a European slant by lobbying the EU to have one of its agencies based inside the 'opera house'. Offices and retail outlets could form part of the atrium.

According to Leonard Mahoney - in his book 500 Years Of Architecture In Malta - Barry had no feeling, nor cared for the vernacular architecture. "In designing his Opera House, Barry (was) estranged from everything that is Maltese, yet (he) struck a sympathetic chord in the common people by endowing it with a massiveness, vigour and floridity, which can only be described as neo-baroque".

The building is so magnificent that the model would definitely appeal to the collector and double as an executive gift, Mr Galea said.

"This model recalls one of Valletta's golden ages and as such will hopefully spur the latent sentiment for the 'opera house' to be rebuilt."

The model comes in a Heritage Homes packaging with a certificate of authenticity and a short history.

Barry's Opera House was badly damaged by enemy action in World War II and was demolished 10 years later.