Without a doubt, nothing conjures up the sheer lavishness of the Amazonian rubber boom’s heyday like the Teatro Amazonas (Av. Sete de Setembro 1540, Centro, tel. 93/3232-4450, www.teatroamazonas.com.br, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.). Inaugurated in 1896, this sumptuous neoclassical opera house was financed by the city’s rubber barons. They went all out in the construction of this none-too-subtle rose pink palace crowned with a dome of 36,000 vivid green, yellow, and blue mosaic tiles that pay homage to the colors of the Brazilian flag.
To adorn the interior, the finest ingredients from Europe were shipped across the Atlantic and up the Amazon: Alsatian glazed tiles, Portuguese marble, Venetian mirrors and crystal, French bronze and furnishings, Scottish cast iron columns and banisters, and electrical fixtures from New York. The main stage curtain depicting the meeting of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões was painted by Brazilian artist Crispim do Amaral (but in Paris!).
Meanwhile, Italian artist Domenico de Angelis is responsible for the opulent ceiling frescoes featuring Indians, jaguars, and even a capybara. There were only two exceptions to the all-imported rule. Precious local woods such as mahogany and jacaranda were used to make the theater’s seats and exquisitely inlaid floors. And homegrown rubber (mixed with clay and sand) was used to pave the road leading up to the entrance so that late-arriving carriages wouldn’t create noise during a performance.
Having undergone several restorations over the course of the last century, required mostly because of termites and humidity, these days the opera house is in excellent condition. Aside from hosting the Festival Amazonas de Ópera, the Teatro has an intense schedule of performances, many of which are free. Even if you do decide to see a concert, it’s also worthwhile taking the 30-minute guided tour.
Note the sidewalk in front of the opera house with its “wave” mosaic of black and white stones. Ring a bell? It should since the very same “wave” walkway is stamped upon the famous Copacabana boardwalk designed by Roberto Burle Marx. However, the original pattern is this one—and the curving bands of black and white represent the Meeting of the Waters.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition