All right, I’m just putting it out there. I’m a huge opera fan. So when I was in Buenos Aires, I naturally had to see the storied Teatro Colon even though it was summer and the theater was dark. Since I couldn’t see a performance, I settled for a guided tour.
The original Teatro Colon was built in 1857, but was demolished in 1888 to make way for the building of the Banco Nacion. Work on the new Teatro Colon began in 1889. Today’s Teatro Colon opened in 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida. The hall immediately became famous for its outstanding acoustics. All the opera greats found their way to Buenos Aires, touring there as readily as to the Met and La Scala. The theater went to seed a bit over the years, but a restoration was started in 2005 and the theater reopened in 2010. What a restoration! The theater is absolutely beautiful, even without the performers.
A really good description of the architectural history of the theater is here: http://www.en.wikiarquitectura.com/index.php/Colon_Theater But here’s a thumbnail version: there was a competition that was won by Francisco Tamburini, an Italian architect who had worked in Buenos Aires for many years. Just as the work on the theater commenced, Tamburini died. The project was taken over by Victor Meano, who was murdered in his home. This theater started to feel like King Tut’s tomb when even an Italian financier, the licensee of the Colon, died suddenly. Finally, Meano was succeeded by Julio Dormal, a Belgian, and the curse was broken. The final building demonstrates both Italian and French styles, highly ornamental with complicated decorative elements.
The concept of the architecture was to allow the opera-goers to ascend to a higher plane as they entered the theater. This first approach is the grand staircase topped by a spectacular dome.
The hall of composers is full of busts of composers guarded by cherubim.
The most elegant area of the theater is the Salon Dorado, or Golden Hall. Only ticket holders in certain sections of the theater are allowed access to this salon.
Sorry about the pictures–I always seem to be looking up.
When we were finally about to enter the house, the sala, full drama kicked in. The group assembled behind a curtain and—voila!–it was whisked aside and there before us was absolutely the most beautiful theater I have ever seen. I am not a crier, but I cried when I saw it. Even now I get goosebumps when I think about the house. In fact, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even take a picture. That’s overwhelmed.
Here are some interesting things about the theater. Along the sides of the orchestra seats there are grates. These enclose boxes that were for the exclusive use of women in mourning who would naturally not want to be seen at the opera but, even more naturally, would of course still want to attend. These look like the grates in old churches that allowed the cloistered nuns or anchorites to attend mass.
The top galleries–the cheap seats–are known as the chicken coop.
There are separate standing room sections for men and women; these are the “cazuela de pie solo para mujeres,” (standing room for women), behind the cazuela section, and the “tertulia de pie” section, one floor above for men.
Here are some cute Mormon missionaries taking the tour in Spanish. Hi Mom!:
While some tours include a guide who likes to sing, alas, our tour did not include a demonstration of the fabulous acoustics.
For more information about performances at the theater, visit the website here. The opera season runs generally from April to July, and then September, November, December. The ballet season is interspersed, playing in March, May, August, October, with the inevitable Nutcracker in December. This is bad news for opera fans traveling to South America during the South American summer season, but that’s where the theater tours come in. There are many concerts, theater productions, touring companies, and special performances throughout the year.
The Teatro Colon is at Avenida 9 de Julio. Guided tours of the theater are given daily, every fifteen minutes, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They last about 50 minutes. Tours are given at different times throughout the day in English, Portuguese, or Spanish. You can reserve tickets in advance by emailing here. You can also get the tickets at the theater on the day of the tour. The entrance to the box office is at Tucuman 1171, around the side of the building. Be sure to go early if you want to get one of the English tours. Once you have your ticket, you can wander around but come back to line up at least fifteen minutes before the tour begins. Only 34 people are allowed per tour.