Colon Opera House

Background of Musical Activity in Buenos Aires

The Teatro Colón, in the City of Buenos Aires, is considered one of the best theaters in the world. Acknowledged for its acoustics and the artistic value of its construction, it turned 100 years in 2008.

The theater is now located in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, among the streets Cerrito, Viamonte, Tucumán and Libertad. It was inaugurated on May 25th, 1908 with Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida. This building replaces the former Teatro Colón, which was located in front of Plaza de Mayo, on the block where the Banco Nación (National Bank) building stands now. The old theater was there between 1857 and 1888.

The construction of the new building took around 20 years. Its cornerstone was placed on May 25th, 1890, intending to inaugurate the theater before October 12th, 1892, the date of the fourth centennial of the discovery of the Americas. The architect in charge of the initial project was Francesco Tamburini. After his death in 1891, the project was continued and modified by his partner Víctor Meano, the architect of the Argentinian Congress building. The construction continued until 1894, but it came to a halt due to financial problems. In 1904, Meano was murdered in his house and the government assigned the Belgian Jules Dormal to finish the construction. Dormal introduced some structural changes and stamped his French style on the decoration.

At the end of 1907, the first lease agreement of the Teatro Colón was signed, even though the works to conclude the building were behind the date set for the inauguration – May 25th, 1908. Finally, despite the fact that some parts (such as the Golden Room and the iron marquees on the streets Libertad and Cerrito) were not finished, the main hall of the Teatro Colón was inaugurated with the Great Italian Lyrical Company performing Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida.

Building Dimensions, Characteristics, Expansions, and Improvements

The Teatro Colón’s building has an eclectic style, typical of the beginning of the 20th century. It extends for 8,202 m2, 5,006 m of which correspond to the main building and 3,196 m to underground rooms beneath the narrow street Arturo Toscanini (right next to the theater, parallel to the street Viamonte). The total covered area of the initial building was 37,884 m2. The expansions carried out later, especially at the end of the 1960s (by the architect Mario Roberto Álvarez), added 12,000 m2, taking the total area of the Teatro Colón to 58,000 m2.

The main hall, in the shape of a horseshoe, fulfils the most severe standards of the Italian and French classic theater. It has box seats up to the third floor. The horseshoe has a minor diameter of 29.25 m, a major diameter of 32.65 m and a height of 28 m. It can hold up to 2,478 people sitting, but the shows can also be attended by 500 people standing. Its 318 m2 dome used to have paintings by Marcel Jambon, but they got damaged in the 1930s. the repainting of the dome was assigned to the Argentinian painter Raúl Soldi.

The stage has an inclination of 3 cm per meter, 35.25 m wide, 34.50 m deep and 48 m high. It includes a spinning disk with a diameter of 20.30 m which can be electrically activated to spin in any direction and change the scenes quickly. In 1988, the grid sector of the scenic machinery was improved, aiming to make the operation of the scenery easier and to speed up the scenery changes.

The orchestra pit can hold up to 120 musicians. It has been treated with a resonance chamber and special curves for the reflection of sound. These conditions, together with the architectural proportions of the hall and the quality of the materials used, give the Teatro Colón exceptional acoustics, globally acknowledged among the most perfect in the world.

The production of the Teatro Colón’s shows is carried out in its own workshops, located in the basements. In 1938, the basements beneath the square on the street Arturo Toscanini were expanded, and a tunnel that linked the production workshops was built. Also in 1938, the machinery, scenery, props, tailor, shoes, scenery mechanics, sculpture, photography, hair and make up workshops were opened. In 1963, new workshops were created – props decoration and costume painting.

Between 1968 and 1972, according to the project of the architect Mario Roberto Álvarez, a second expansion was carried out, under the square and the street Cerrito. The areas of theatrical production, scenery workshops, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices, and a dinning room for the employees are located there. The technical area of production design and the lightning, electromechanical FX, and audio and video workshops were added later.

In 2000, the Executive Branch of the City, through the Undersecretariat of Cultural Patrimony (Subsecretaría de Patrimonio Cultural), called upon the General Directorate of Infrastructure (Dirección General de Infraestructura) to elaborate a “Master Plan” for the restoration of the building and the fly loft technological update.

Great Artists that Performed in the Teatro Colón

Since its inauguration in 1908 up to these days, a huge number of great artists have performed in the Teatro Colón. Their presence on this stage forged their impressive musical tradition and their worldwide prestige.

The theatre was graced with the performance of composers such as Richard Strauss, Arthur Honegger, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Camille Saint-Saëns, Manuel de Falla, Aaron Copland, Krzysztof Penderecki, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Héctor Panizza, Juan José Castro, Gerardo Gandini and Mauricio Kagel. Moreover, several generations of conductors performed here, such as Arturo Toscanini, Erich Kleiber, Fritz Busch, Ernest Ansermet, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Tulio Serafin, Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Karl Böhm, Fernando Previtali, Lorin Maazel, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Kurt Masur, Michel Corboz, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, René Jacobs, and the Argentinian conductors Daniel Barenboim, Gabriel Garrido and Miguel Ángel Veltri, among others.

As regards singers, the vast list includes, among thousands, the tenors Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Lauritz Melchior, Mario del Monaco, Richard Tucker, Wolfgang Windgassen, Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti; the sopranos Claudia Muzio, Lily Pons, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Kirsten Flagstad, Victoria de los Ángeles, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Montserrat Caballé, Eva Marton, Kiri Te Kanawa, Katia Ricciarelli, Mirella Freni, June Anderson, and Renée Fleming; the mezzo-sopranos Fedora Barbieri, Marilyn Horne, Teresa Berganza, Christa Ludwig, Régine Crespin, Frederica von Stade, Waltraud Meier, and Cecilia Bartoli; the baritones Titta Ruffo, Leonard Warren, Hans Hotter, Cornell MacNeil, Hermann Prey, Sherrill Milnes, José van Dam, Dmitri Hvorostovsky; and the basses Fedor Chaliapin, Borís Christoff, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Samuel Ramey.

Furthermore, some Argentinian artists with international careers have sung in the Teatro Colón: Delia Rigal, Luis Lima, Raúl Giménez, Ana María González, Renato Cesari, Ricardo Cassinelli, Gian-Piero Mastromei, Ángel Mattiello, Carlo Cossutta, Carlos Guichandut, Cecilia Díaz, Paula Almerares, Marcelo Álvarez, José Cura, Darío Volonté, and Virginia Tola.

Among the ballet stars that have performed in the theater, the prestigious list includes Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Alicia Alonso, Maia Plissetskaya, Margot Fonteyn, Mijail Barishnikov, Vladimir Vassiliev, Antonio Gades and the Argentinian dancers María Ruanova, Olga Ferri, Michel Borovsky, José Neglia, Norma Fontenla, Wasil Tupin, Esmeralda Agloglia, Jorge Donn, Julio Bocca, Maximiliano Guerra, and Paloma Herrera.

In the lyrical seasons, distinguished régisseurs have worked here, such as Ernst Poettgen, Margarita Wallmann, Otto Erhart, Cecilio Madanes, Roberto Oswald, Jorge Lavelli, Gilbert Defló, Nicolas Joel, Pier Luigi Pizzi, and Hugo de Ana. Their work was complemented by that of important scenographers and costume designers like Nicolas Benois, Paul Walter, Aníbal Lapiz, José Luciano Varona, Raúl Soldi, Guillermo Roux, Ezio Frigerio, Franca Squarciapino, and Graciela Galán.

The most important orchestras in the world have also performed in the Teatro Colón. Some examples are the Vienna Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Furthermore, distinguished instrumental soloists stood out on this stage, such as Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel, Paco De Lucía, Antonio De Raco, Nelson Freire, Bruno Gelber, Friedrich Gulda, Gidon Kremer, Alberto Lysy, David Oistrakh, Manuel Rego, Narciso Yepes, Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Ralph Votapek, and Misha Maiski, among many others.

Milestones in the History of the Theater

From 1908 to 1925, the Teatro Colón was run with a concessionaire system, by which the Municipality of Buenos Aires had contracts with concessionaires. These contracts established the artistic and financial obligations of the concessionaires, controlled by special commissions that intended to represent the season ticket holders. This system failed to work, because the concessionaires included mostly an Italian repertoire, while the public wanted a wider repertoire.

In 1925, the Municipality of Buenos Aires created the permanent bodies of the Teatro Colón – the Orchestra, the Chorus, the Ballet Company and the technical bodies. For the following five years, there was a mixed management (concessionaires-Municipality).

In 1931, the city town councilors finally decided to municipalize the Teatro Colón as a public service with its own asset.

In 1937, the School of Opera of the Teatro Colón was created. In 1960, at the request of the masters Alberto Ginastera, Enrique Sivieri, and Michel Borovsky, the school’s name was changed to Superior Art Institute of the Teatro Colón (Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón). The Institute was set on different floors of the building, with degree courses in Ballet, Lyrical Singing, Régie, Opera Conduction and Theatrical Portrayal.

In 1961, the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra was added to the permanent activities of the theater. It had been created in 1946, and since 1950, it has offered season ticket concerts and it has participated in the shows of the Permanent Ballet Company of the Teatro Colón.

In 1969, the Municipality of Buenos Aires created the Chamber Opera of the Teatro Colón, counting with some of the most distinguished singers of the house.

In 1989, the Teatro Colón was declared “National Historical Monument.”

In 1990, the Experimentation Center of the Teatro Colón was created, with the aim of promoting the vanguard artistic activities.

In 2008, the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires passed the Teatro Colon’s Autarky Law.

Teatro Colón’s Autarky Law and Recent Institutional Reforms

On September 11th, 2008, the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires passed the Teatro Colón’s Autarky Law, which created the Teatro Colón Autarkic Entity within the sphere of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires. This entity had its own legal status, operating autonomy and financial autarky. Its goal was to “create, bring up, represent, promote and spread lyrical, choreographic, musical – symphony and chamber – and experimental art, in the form of excellence, according to its historical tradition, and within the framework of the cultural policies of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.”

Moreover, this law settled old, known conflicts related to the management of the theater. In fact, this new standard laid the foundations for a more modern management, allowing the Teatro Colón to have a more efficient, independent and transparent administration of its resources.

This law establishes that the Entity will be directed by a Board of Directors of five members: a General Director having a wide range of functions and responsibilities, an Executive Director, and three Member Directors, one of which must be elected by the employees. All the directors will be appointed and removed by the Head of Government of the City of Buenos Aires. Their functions will be immediately terminated when, by any cause whatsoever, the functions of the Head of Government who appointed them are terminated.

The Teatro Colón Autarkic Entity, as provided by the law, will have a Management Control Unit, whose Director will be appointed by the Head of Government. It will be in charge of, among others, supervising the administration of the Entity, examining its accounting and documentation when deemed convenient, ruling on the annual report and balance sheet, and controlling the cultural public policy management plan carried out by the Entity.

In February 2009, the Head of Government of the City of Buenos Aires, Ing. Mauricio Macri, appointed Master Pedro Pablo García Caffi as General and Artistic Director of the Teatro Colón. Caffi had had a brilliant career in the Argentinian Theater of the City of La Plata (Teatro Argentino de la ciudad de La Plata), in the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra and in the Camerata Bariloche.

Right after his appointment, García Caffi designated the artistic and stagecraft directors of the theater and authorized a wide reform of its body structure, taking the number of employees from 1300 to 808 and adapting the new positions and functions to a more modern model of theatrical production.

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