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Teatro Colón: The greatest Opera House in Latin America at a glance

a building lit up at night

When visiting Buenos Aires travelers might be surpirsed by the enormous amount of things to do and places to visit that Argentina’s capital city has to offer. Among all of its historic buildings with amazing architecture, wonderful parks, top quality restaurants, and world renowned museums, there is one traditional place you can’t miss: the Colón Thater, the city’s fantastic Opera House.

Ranked among the most important opera houses in the world, as important as “La Scala” in Milan, “The Paris Opera”, and the “Vienna State Opera”, it is a must-see for all travelers, no matter their travel interests.

Discover what makes Colón Theater such an iconic place to explore in this post covering everything from its history, architecture and decoration details, and important information regarding the performances.

Buenos Aires: The Paris of South America

During the XIX century, local authorities wanted Argentina to be a European-style nation, and back in the time opera was considered important for the refined tastes in Europe. This way, Buenos Aires’ first Opera House was inaugurated.

The city’s first opera house was located in front of Plaza de Mayo (May square), opposite to Casa Rosada (Pink House). Opened in 1857, the theatre was named “Teatro Colón” after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. This was the first iron frame structure in Buenos Aires, but it was a small theatre, so shortly after its inauguration the authorities began thinking about a new location for it.  

The striking building we see today along 9 de Julio avenue and close to the Obelisk was inaugurated on May 25th., 1908, with the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.

Construction

Aerial view of Buenos Aires' Opera House

The new Opera House building in Buenos Aires is located in a block surrounded by Cerrito, Lavalle, Viamonte and Libertad streets.

Its foundation stone was placed in 1890 and the construction of this new building took around twenty years. The original and initial design was planned by the Italian architect Franceso Tamburini.  The authorities had the idea to inaugurate the new theatre in 1892, for the 400th anniversary of Columbus arrival in America. This could not be possible for different reasons.

Architect Tamburini died in 1891, so the project was continued by his partner, Vittorio Meano, another Italian architect who is also responsible for the building for our National Congress. As he took over, he went on with the idea, but with some modifications to the original prohect.

Things became difficult. Time passed, the contractor in charge of the project went into bankruptcy and architect Vittorio Meano was murdered. Both architects, Franceso Tamburini and Vittorio Meano, were 44 years old when they died.

This time, the authorities commissioned the Belgian Jules Dormal to finish the Opera House in Buenos Aires. He also modified part of the original idea, introducing the French style decoration.

Opening day

As we previously mentioned, the Opera House in Buenos Aires was inaugurated with the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi on May 25, 1908. Since then, every opera season begins with an opera by Verdi.

Words cannot express how important the opening ceremony was. Aristocratic families were very glad to finally have an Opera House in the city, after 20 years of construction.

During the first years, the Theatre authorities hired different foreign companies to perform, but in 1925 our Opera House began having  permanent orchestra, ballet and choir, which are still active nowadays.

The building

Anyone walking along 9 de Julio avenue cannot help but be amazed by its fine architecture.

Although the facade facing the 9 de Julio seems to be the main entrance, this avenue wasn’t opened up to 1936, so the main entrance in on the opposite side, on Libertad street, just in front of Lavalle square.

There, you will be able to admire the amazing façade with the iron canopy and just behind the main doors, the Carrara marble staircase of honour.

At the end of 2006, our Opera House was closed to undergo a complete restoration and renovation process. Activities would be carried out in alternative halls in Buenos Aires. All the details were considered. New technology and modern safety measures were incorporated. The Opera House was reopened with a special concert on May 24th, 2010.

There is an internal street connecting Tucumán and Viamonte Streets. In the old days, this passageway was used for carriages and nowadays, it is part of the access to guided tours. If you have some extra time, there is a traditional café in there, so it is an excellent option to sit and relax for a while. The souvenir store is located by the café. Impossible to resist the temptation of buying some memories from your Buenos Aires trip!

The foyer

Details are there to be discovered everywhere. The foyer is amazing.

The marble staircase is a jewel on its own. It leads to the main auditorium, but it also had another very important role: think about the old days when men wore elegant tuxedos and women long and fashionable dresses. The staircase was there to see and to be seen.

Buenos Aires' Opera House staircase.

Something not to be missed: the stained glass in the ceiling. It was brought from France in 1907, one year before the theatre inauguration. It depicts Apollo’s muses: feminine images playing different musical instruments, dancing and surrounded by colours and flowers. 

The Golden Hall

This place will leave you speechless!

Inspired on the palace of Versailles, each detail is awesome. Two huge chandeliers decorate the long hall and some important mirrors make it look endless.  Pilasters on each side wall show a delicate 22-carat gold gilding.

This hall had a special use in the old days. Going to the theatre wasn’t just an occasion to listen to an opera, concert or watching a ballet, it was also an opportunity to meet people, to socialize, and to do business during the intermissions. And the Golden Hall was the preferred meeting place.

At the moment, the Golden Hall is used for chamber music concerts, which by the way are usually free!! 

The Hall of Busts

This is a nice corridor with entrances to smaller halls. Some busts of important and renowned  composers were placed above each doorway. Don’t miss an amazing sculpture: “The Secret”. Please, admire the details in the Carrara marble structure by the German sculptor Gustav Eberlein.

The Main Auditorium

Buenos Aires' Opera House main auditorium

With its horseshoe shape, this is a real gem. The auditorium has more than 2400 seats distributed in 7 levels. On each side of the stage, there are special boxes. On the right side, the presidential box. On the left side, the box for the city mayor. They could hardly see anything from there, but –once more- it is a useful occasion for them to be seen by other people attending the performances. These days, the presidential box is located in the first floor, opposite the stage. The best view you can have!

Another not so known secret: If you take a closer look, on each side, right and left, boxes with black metal grilles which have a different access. They were used by women who were in mourning. In the early years, it was not usual for them to be in public, so this way, they could attend performances, still remaining far from public view. Things have changed and these days the boxes are usually used to keep musical instruments.

While the lights are still on, take a glance at the dome to find a wonderful work of art. It was painted by Raúl Soldi, one of the most important local artists. He represented artists playing musical instruments and actors interchanging masks which represent drama and comedy. There is a corridor along the dome where musicians can be playing instruments without being seen, generating special sounds as storms or birds. 

The central chandelier is another work of art. It was built in Europe and weighs over a ton. It is lowered once a year to change lightbulbs and check the mechanism. 

But above all, the most important characteristics of this hall (and what makes it so renowned around the world): almost flawless acoustics. You can even listen to the fall of a pin! This was achieved by the combination of different details: The horseshoe shape allows the sound to be reflected, so the whole auditorium turns into an echo chamber. Besides, the of use hard and soft materials complete the perfect combination for the best results! 

The Workshops

Believe it or not, all costumes, wigs, shoes or pieces of scenography are produced in the theater’s own workshops. Incredible right? Our Opera House’s basement is like a giant maze hosting not only workshps but also administrative offices and the canteen for the staff. In fact, the basement is so huge that a part of it is located below 9 de Julio avenue. 

Artists on the stage

Many important international artists have performed in our Opera House in Buenos Aires. Tenors Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Plácido Domingo; sopranos María Callas, Montserrat Caballé and Mirella Freni, just to mention some of them.

Among the most important dancers who have performed on this stage we can mention Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev, Mijail Barishnikov, Maya Plisetskaya, Antonio Gades, and the Argentinians Olga Ferri, Norma Fontenla, Jorge Donn, Paloma Herrera, Eleonora Cassano, Julio Bocca, and many more.

Buenos Aires Opera House schedule

After a long wait, the Opera House has come back to live performances in July 2021. Even though the season will finish soon, there are still some productions you can enjoy, as well as performances at the Golden Hall. 

You can check updated information at the Theater’s website.

Opera House Skip the line Buenos Aires tour

If you want to delve beneath the surface of Buenos Aires city while taking a tour of Buenos Aires’ Opera House (plus skip the line access) leaving the organization up to someone else check out our Small Group Buenos Aires City Tour + Visit to Teatro Colón and Colon Theater Skip-the-Line & Palaces of Buenos Aires Tour. Two great options if you you want to get a good feeling of the city and discover places to keep exploring afterwards. Definitely an experience you will never forget!!

 

We hope you found this information about Teatro Colon, the Opera House in Buenos Aires useful for your next stay in the city.

In case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are just a message away, ready to help you and hoping to see you soon around here to say: “Welcome to Buenos Aires. Enjoy your stay”.

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