Splendid old opera house in Buenos Aires
NEW UPDATE: After almost 4 years of renovations, the Teatro Colon reopened its doors, as expected, on the 25th May 2010. Tickets are now available either at their ticket office, or buying online through TUENTRADA.COM using the following link: Buy Teatro Colon Tickets Online Here for Opera, Ballet, other Concerts & Guided Tours (after purchase you will still need to collect the tickets from the ticket office from 2 hours to 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the show). The tickets website is currently only working in Spanish, so if your Spanish is not so great, you can use Google Translate.
(Original post written October 25th 2006, since edited)
Before it closed for renovations, I took the opportunity to take in a performance at the Teatro Colon (Colon Theater) which many say is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Buenos Aires, as one of the most famous opera houses in the world.
I had been prompted to get along to the Colon by the fact that it was closing for reconstruction work at the end of October 2006, with original plans to reopen on May 25, 2008, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the theater. However, in the end the renovations took almost twice as long as expected, and so the Teatro Colon instead reopened on May 25th 2010, the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution, when Argentina split from the Spanish to become an independent nation.
It was a long wait until the re-opening, and knowing Argentina and it’s reputation for tardiness, I correctly doubted works would be completed on time, so it was important for me to check the legendary theater out before the prospect of a long wait.
My companions and I saw a concert from the Camerata Bariloche orchestra, playing pieces from Strauss and Beethoven, which was all very pleasing to the ears (I have to admit I’m not much of a classical music fan), but the star of the show was of course the venue itself, which was resplendent in its rich scarlet and gold decoration, along with several forests worth of beautiful wooden construction that make up the auditorium, with hints of Italian, Greek, German and French Renaissance design. And that was before the renovations, when it was looking a little tatty. The place is now back in pristine condition.
It’s all very impressive when you are looking down, way, way down, from above, in the ‘Paradise’ (‘Paraiso’ – the 7th and final seating level) area, which are the cheapest tickets in the house, but still offer an interesting view and due to the famed acoustics of the Colon, it sounds great from wherever you are sat.
For the record, I turned up in smart shoes, trousers, a shirt and tie, taking note of the dress code I saw in the ticket office earlier that day. I was easily the most over dressed person in the ‘Paraiso’ area – but in the more expensive areas I did see some well dressed ladies and gentleman. I think in reality you could go along dressed as you please – I saw quite a few people in jeans and t shirts.
Some Teatro Colon History
The famous venue is not without some interesting history. It opened in 1908, almost 20 years after the first cornerstone was laid in 1889, under the direction of architect Francesco Tamburini. You might understand why I thought the recent restorations may not be completed on time when I tell you that the theatre was originally due to be opened in 1892!
But to be fair, a series of tragedies did complicate the process. Tamburini died soon after construction started, and his friend Vittorio Meano took over the project. Who also promptly died (murdered in a love triangle ‘gone wrong’ – though actually I’m not sure if there are many love triangles that ‘go right’). The architects were followed to the grave by another Italian guy, Angelo Ferrari (assassinated), that had been partly funding the building works. Italians dropping like flies…
Fortunately, a Belgian, Julio Dormal, came in and finished the job, breathing a sigh of relief as the finishing touches were made without event. This further confirmed my feeling that Belgians are in fact some of the greatest people on this planet, not only producing the best beer in the world and some of the finest chocolate, but also bucking architectural death trends without batting an eyelid. And that’s not to mention the waffles! I used to drink to Dormal and his kind whenever I could (sadly no Belgian beer) inside another of his many BA constructions, the Confiteria Richmond cafe, on pedestrian Florida Street (near Lavalle), but sadly that classic cafe closed to the public in 2011.
The Colon Finally Opens…
But back to the theatre. It finally opened on 25 May 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida, and never looked back, as it became one of the world’s premiere centers of opera. Over the years the Teatro Colon has hosted such musical greats as Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, French opera singer Jane Bathori, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, Greek soprano Maria Callas, the legendary Luciano Pavarotti, Argentine Tango bandoneon maestro Astor Piazzolla and even Weird Al Yankovic. OK, I made that last one up, but it would have been interesting.
Previous Colon Theater
There was actually a Colon theatre before the current one, as noted by Jeff Barry in his blog. It had opened in 1857 on the edge of Plaza de Mayo, and served Argentine aristocracy well for a good many years until the current Colon was opened in 1908. These days in the old Colon location you’ll find the the Banco de la Nacion – the national bank of Argentina, an imposing structure that looks down upon the tourists that buzz round the Pink House.
The current theatre, located in the City Center (in the unofficial sub-barrio of Tribunales) and visible from Avenue 9 de Julio, has virtually perfect acoustics. This is one of its main attractions, the sound reaching each and every audience member perfectly – so you can save money and still enjoy the concert, even if the orchestra do look like musical ants from the loftier vantage points.
If that doesn’t sound like a nice visual experience, you can always take in the music while staring at the beautiful surroundings, such as the decoration around the top of the stage, the huge, dazzling chandelier, or the ceiling frescoes that surround it. Though sadly the latter are not original, due to damage caused by damp in the 1930s. Instead they were painted in 1966 by famous Argentine muralist Raul Soldi, whose work can also be found on the ceiling of the wonderful Galerias Pacifico shopping center, on Florida street (on the corner of Avenida Cordoba).
Teatro Colon Verdict
I very much recommend that any visitor to Buenos Aires pay a visit to the Teatro Colon – especially now that this great attraction has been restored to its former glory. If you don’t have the chance to catch a show there, then you can always go for a guided tour of the building during the daytime, for which tickets can be bought through the Tu Entrada website (click on Visitas Guiadas), or by visiting the theater in person when you get to Buenos Aires. They run on the hour, every hour, in English, from 9am to 5pm.
Or if you are really tight for time, the Teatro Colon is still there on Avenida 9 de Julio (although that is the back, go around onto Plaza Lavalle for the front view) to be appreciated from the outside, and that’s not such a bad view in itelf…
Location of Teatro Colon
Teatro Colon, Cerrito 628, Tribunales (City Center)
Telephone: (54-11) 4378-7109