This year marks a whopping 110 years since Teatro Colón, one of the most beloved buildings in Buenos Aires (and one of the five best concert venues in the world) opened its doors to the public.
That’s even older than Warner Brother’s Pictures, the Panama Canal and Converse All-Stars (which will be turning 100, 104 and 101 respectively, in case you were wondering.) And while us mere mortals have only been able to experience the wonder of the theater in the midst of the modern world, we have been digging around to find out some fun facts about this historical building, so that we can try to imagine we were there from the beginning.
Let’s start with the name.
While you can try to convince us that you have never wondered why it was named after an internal organ, we don’t believe you. The opera house is named after Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who discovered the Americas. (Yes, Columbus = Colón, so if you didn’t know that, add it to your vocabulary, pronto).
The name of the theater is by no means the only Italian thing about it. Just looking at it from the outside, you can see influences from the handful of Italian architects and designers that assisted in its construction, and even if you aren’t an architectural nerd, you will probably agree that the building wouldn’t look out of place in Rome.
To be honest, this fact is one that we never doubted for a second, considering the amount of time, money and sheer backache it took to ship over the authentic materials from Italy in order to construct the building. If it hadn’t screamed ‘Italy’ from the start, we’d have been asking for a refund.
The Teatro Colón that we all know and love, however, was not the original theatre. Originally located at Plaza de Mayo where the National Bank currently sits, the first theatre was a bit of a flop. Sure, it was open for over 30 years, but word has it that this theatre, which was designed by Charles Pellegrini and operated between 1857 and 1888, didn’t even break even.
You could say that the new theatre was somewhat of a saviour for the opera lovers of the city and, even though it took the best part of a quarter of a century to construct, the prestige speaks for itself.
The delays in the construction of the theatre were caused by many obstacles. As you can probably guess, these included financial trouble and disagreements between designers, but there was a bit more drama along the way than you might expect.
During the construction, the designers of the theatre suffered some hard times. Originally, the project was led by Italian architect Francesco Tamburini, but after his sudden death in 1891, just one year after construction had begun, it was taken over by his apprentice, Victor Meano. Meano had his own problems and to add to the high levels of novella-worthy drama already surrounding the project, in 1904 he caught his wife cheating on him with the actual butler. Believe it or not, the tale doesn’t end there – once he had made this discovery, the butler went and murdered poor Victor. You really can’t make this stuff up.
So, the final leg of the construction was seen through by a third architect: Belgian-born Jules Dormal. Let’s face it, Dormal really had his work cut out for him what with having to finish a high-profile theater that had already had two styles worked into it, as well as avoiding the curse that seemed to have taken the lives of the other two architects. Thankfully, three was a magic number in this case, because Dormal successfully completed the project with his life still intact and the theater finally opened its doors to the public on 25th May 1908 with Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Aida.
Over the years, the theater has undergone a lot of changes, not least being the social tendencies associated with it. As you can imagine, in the early 20th Century, you needed to have quite a deep pocket to go to see the opera, but it wasn’t just for the shows that people would congregate in the building.
It was also used as a place to mingle and gossip, much like that of a group chat nowadays for you millennials who are scratching your head at the word ‘mingle’. The main hall even had secret boxes at basement level to cater for widows who were still in their seven-year mourning period (which according to the social norms of the time meant that they should not go out to enjoy themselves under any circumstances), so they could listen to the music without being judged and berated by their busy-body acquaintances.
If you venture into the theater today, you can still see these boxes, although thankfully they are no longer in use.
Today, the theatre consistently ranks among the top four in the world, alongside La Scala in Milan, Sydney Opera House and The Bolshoi in Moscow and has been raved about by countless legends including Luciano Pavarotti who was famously quoted saying that he was nervous to perform in the theater because the perfect acoustics would amplify any mistake he made. In fact, the acoustics are so on point that most performances don’t use any amplification at all to fill the almost 3,000-person capacity concert hall with sound.
Even after it’s renovation which took nine years from start to finish (2003 until 2012), the acoustics remain flawless, and after 110 years in business, it is still one of the most idolized locations for the best in the business to perform.
To celebrate the big anniversary, the theater will be home once again to Verdi’s legendary opera, Aida, which was the show to which it opened its doors all those years ago. The opera will be performed on seven dates between 27th May and 5th June.
The magic for Autumn and Winter 2018 doesn’t stop there – Anne-Marie Holmes and Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra bring you the ballet The Corsair in April, Alessandro Scarlatti’s opera The Triumph of Honor is taking to the stage in May and there are also some special versions of ballets and operas scheduled for children including Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella. On top of that, expect more free concerts and a few more surprises along the way as we get closer to the anniversary of the inauguration.