Colón Theatre - the jewel of Buenos Aires
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Arguably the most beautiful theatre in the world, but missing from many 'must visit' lists and from many books describing 'the world's most magnificent theatres,' or 'the theatres with the best acoustics in the world,' is the Teatro Colón* of Buenos Aires. The theatre is way more impressive than Milan's La Scala, more elegant than Paris Opera's baroque-style Palais Garnier, and more charming than the New York Metropolitan. Not having visited Moscow or St Petersburg, I can't compare the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky. For me, only Prague's State Opera House, though much smaller, comes close in terms of beauty.
In my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen, Catherine arranges tickets for a free concert in the theatre, and she is astounded by its magnificence.
So, why would Pavarotti have a complaint to make about it? Well, it was because the acoustics were simply 'too perfect.' He was concerned that the slightest mistake would be picked up by the audience.
Opened in 1908 with a performance of the opera Aida, this sumptuous theatre takes up a whole city block in central Buenos Aires, beside one of the widest avenues in the world, Avenida 9 de Julio, and near the famous obelisk. All the sets and costumes are made on site, and the workrooms below the theatre extend far under the avenue. It seats 2,478, plus many hundreds standing, is an elongated horseshoe shape, and has six tiers of seats surrounding the stalls. Entering the main hall, with its burgundy upholstery and carpets, golden balconies, and fabulous curtain, is a breathtaking experience. The ceiling, painted by the Argentine artist Raul Soldi, displays a wonderful scene of minstrels and dancers on a blue background, surrounding a massive hemispherical chandelier.
I'll mention only a few of the many renowned performers who have graced the stage. They include composers Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky; conductors Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado and Daniel Barenboim; singers Enrico Caruso, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and Kiri Te Kanawa; dancers Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Mijail Barishnikov and Paloma Herrera; orchestras The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, The New York Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London; and instrumental soloists Martha Argerich, Yo-Yo Ma and Maxim Vengerov.
In 2010 the theatre was re-opened after a long process of restoration. Tours are available every day (except for five or six public holidays), every fifteen minutes from 9am to 5pm, in Spanish and English. From time to time the preparation of the hall for a performance will mean that the tour is incomplete, so to avoid disappointment, plan the tour early in your visit to Buenos Aires. Or go to a performance.
*Cristobal Colón is the Spanish name of Christopher Columbus. I've never understood why the names are so different in the two languages. Be that as it may, the theatre is never called Columbus Theatre in English. It is always called The Colón Theatre.