Possibly the continent’s most important performing arts venue, the ornate Colón (1908) reopened in 2010—though it is not yet ready for opera. Even as work proceeded, it managed to offer top-tier international opera, ballet, and symphonic performers, as well as first-rate local talent in opera, ballet, and symphony in alternative venues.
Argentine lyric theater dates from the early 19th century, with the first European artists arriving in the 1820s. The original Colón, on the Plaza de Mayo, seated 2,500 people and opened with Verdi’s La Traviata in 1857. As the earlier theater became the Banco de la Nación, authorities chose the site of the country’s first-ever railway station for Francesco Tamburini’s Italian Renaissance design.
Occupying a lot of more than 8,000 square meters, with floor space of nearly 38,000 square meters on seven levels, the Colón opened with a performance of Verdi’s Aída. Seating 2,478 patrons, with standing room for another 700, it’s one of the country’s most ornate buildings, its Gran Hall outfitted with Verona and Carrara marble, its Salón de los Bustos studded with busts of famous figures from European classical music, and its Salón Dorado (Golden Salon) modeled on palaces like Paris’s Versailles and Vienna’s Schönbrunn.
The main theater itself follows lines of French and Italian classics, with world-class acoustics; a rotating disc aids rapid scene changes. The orchestra accommodates up to 120 musicians. Seating ranges from comfortably upholstered rows to luxury boxes, including a presidential box with its own phone line to the Casa Rosada and a separate exit. Presidential command performances take place on the winter patriotic holidays of May 25 and July 9.
Since its opening, the who’s who of performers has included Igor Stravinsky, María Callas, Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, and Yo-Yo Ma, not to mention world-renowned orchestras and dance companies. At times, though, the administration has let its hair down to accommodate performers like folksinger Mercedes Sosa, the porteño rhythm-and-blues unit Memphis La Blusera, and rock guitarist-songwriter Luis Alberto Spinetta.
The Teatro Colón (box office at Libertad 621, tel. 011/4378-7344, www.teatrocolon.org.ar) presents some 200 events per annum between May and November. Both events and guided tours were suspended until the theater reopened, but for the latest information contact the Teatro Colón (Viamonte 1168, tel. 011/4378-7132, visitas [at] teatrocolon [dot] org [dot] ar, US$3 nonresident adults, US$1.50 Argentine residents, US$0.75 children up to age 10); tours last 50 minutes and go behind the scenes as well.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition