City’s Theater Re-Opens in Style

By Sean Collins, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Overlooking Floriano Square, more commonly known as Cinelândia, stands what is widely considered to be one of the city’s most beautiful buildings, the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. Home to some of the nation’s finest performing arts, it was closed for renovations for over a year and a half, but after a ‘soft opening’ at the start of May, has finally witnessed its fanfare inauguration.

With the scaffolding finally removed, the Theatro Municipal's gold gilding shines gloriously in the sunlight, photo by Alex Nelson.

On May 27th the theater held its grand opening, attended by President Lula, the Minister of Culture Juca Ferreira, Governor Cabral and Mayor Eduardo Paes, with the President remarking to the assembled press; “Culture should be understood as a kind of basic necessity, because watching a show in a place so wonderful and unique as this theater, nourishes everything we hold dear: our dreams.”

The grandeur of his words was matched by the occasion, and with the red carpet rolled out the choir and symphony orchestra opened proceedings with an interpretive rendition of the national anthem. There followed a performance of the opera Lo Schiavo written by Carlos Gomes, and ballet by world-famous Brazilian ballerina Ana Botafogo.

Those who appreciate performing arts are in for a treat this year, with several world-class performances scheduled throughout 2010. Among the ballet pieces are performances choreographed by celebrated American David Parson, and Cervantes’ classical tale of Don Quixote de la Mancha will be recounted in the ballet Don Quixote set to the original music composed by Ludwig Minkus. Tchaikovski’s perennial favorite The Nutcracker is also set for a run.

Forthcoming operas include Romeo and Juliet, Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s The Troubadour, and Bela Bartók’s O Castelo do Barbazul.

On the July 14th the theater celebrates its 101st anniversary with free shows performed throughout the day by the theater’s symphonic orchestra, choir and ballet company. It is the only Brazilian cultural institution that continues to maintain all three simultaneously, and having missed out on the centenary celebrations due to building works, it is certain to be a spectacular affair.

Construction of the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro began in 1905 under the mayor of the then national capital, Pereira Passos. Planned as the final piece of the extensive urban restructuring carried out during his term, its design is based on the Paris Opera house, and renowned national and international artists have performed dance, music, and opera in the theater since its opening in 1909.

In 1934 the theater was briefly closed for three months to expand capacity from 1,600 to 2,205 seats. The next time that major renovations were performed on the theater was is 1975 when it closed for three years. This current round of renovations lasting eighteen months was largely thanks to donations and represents an investment of over R$75 million.

The theater as it looked in 1909, some four years after it was formally opened, photo by FUNDAJ/Brazil Public Domain.

The extensive work included much-needed practical as well as aesthetic repairs. Electrical and plumbing systems were updated, the elevators, air-conditioners, and seats were all replaced and work was done to make the theater wheelchair accessible.

There were also improvements to the acoustics and lighting, and restoration work on 38 paintings. The building’s roof, foyers, dressing rooms, stage, and main hall all underwent significant renovations in order to restore their original splendor, as can be seen in the now-gleaming gold details.

The official website was also revamped and features a stunning collection of photos showing various stages of the renovation in detail. These photos, along with information on the history of the theater and the events schedule, can be viewed at www.theatromunicipal.rj.gov.br.