Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Teatro Colón

We were here a few weeks ago; I still cannot go in. Carol wanted to visit this Opera house which has some of the best acoustics in the world, I could not do it. Why? It’s a matter of principle for me. Porteños have an admission price of 30 Pesos (US$ 7.00) to take the tour. Foreigners pay … not double, not triple but a whopping 110 Pesos (US$ 25.00) for the same tour.

Sorry, that smacks of first class discrimination to me for a country that should know better.

I took the mask pictures, but here is Carol’s report on what she saw and learned:

The original opera theatre was a much smaller structure, constructed beside the Casa Rosada (see Hans’ Blog #3 “A Crappy Day”) near Plaza de Mayo and opened in 1837. Its smaller size was no impediment to obtaining seats as only the Upper Class of the population attended operatic performances.
Then in the late 1800s, after a large influx of mainly Italian immigrants who loved their opera, a new, expanded venue was required. An Italian architect was hired but he died prematurely at the age of 44 before construction could commence. A few years later, his successor was murdered, also at the age of 44. Then the chief financial backer of the project died. Many thought that these deaths were omens of disaster for the project and work on the building halted for some time.
A German architect (much older than 44 years) was eventually hired, so work recommenced and the project was finally completed after 20 years in 1908, under the direction of a fourth architect – a Belgian. The grand opening performance was Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.
The building shows the influences of these different nationalities with the austere German-influenced columns on the main level contrasted with the rounded, Italian inspired columns on the second level and the filigreed French fluting at the tops of the second level columns.

In 2010, the Teatro reopened after five years of renovation. Since then, the group who scientifically measures the acoustics in all the great opera houses of the world has claimed that those of the Teatro Colón are unsurpassed. Pavarotti once complained that this Opera House had one great flaw – the acoustics were so good that every mistake could be heard.
We learned from our guide that many things contribute to the outstanding sound quality.

First, the oval shape of the theatre directs the sound to circulate around the room. Secondly, the sound absorbing qualities of the furnishings and the walls of the first three levels combined with the echo-inducing qualities of the remaining four levels produce a naturally amplified sound with no echo.
As well, the curved shape of the fixtures helps in the dispersal of sound. These strategies are so effective that microphones are not needed or used. We had fun singing “Happy Birthday” to our guide to test out these acoustics for ourselves. Imagine that – I sang in the Teatro Colón!
Applause, PLEASE !
The Theatre has almost 2500 seats with standing room for an additional 1000. Many visitors for the standing area bring small chairs and take a spot there for an admission of only 40 peso per performance. As well, there are small rooms behind iron grille work on the main floor which would accommodate widows. At one time, widows could not be seen in public for several years after the death of their spouse so these private rooms, each with a private entrance to the outside, allowed the widows to experience the opera secretly. Eva Perón abolished this custom along with many other repressive practices against women.
The cupola in the main theatre is 28 meters above the floor and the huge chandelier is surrounded by a platform (see the gold ring around the chandelier).
During the production of Joan d’ Arc, when she is burned at the stake and her soul rises to heaven, a choir of 15 singers stand on this platform and sing as the heavenly angels welcoming her to heaven.
Several halls are used as Intermission Halls –
one has busts of the classical composers ringing the ceiling and another has been likened to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.
All are ornately furnished and richly carpeted.
I discovered that the funds raised from the tours provide scholarships for young men and women studying music. The Teatro Colón conducts an opera school, classes in symphonic music, opera art work and staging.
All costumes are made on the premises. The three floors below ground level are devoted to these endeavours.

It was an interesting, informative tour led by a delightful, young woman with impeccable English.

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