Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Buenos Aires – Day Two
Our main destination today is the Teatro Colon located at Plaza Lavelle. The plaza is dedicated to Juan Lavelle. Lavalle was a general in the military and like many military men he was both honored and reviled during his life. He died in 1841, defeated in war and his few followers tried to take his body to Bolivia. However, due to decomposition, they were forced to boil his body and take only his bones. These are now buried in La Recoleta Cemetery and his statue in the center of the plaza is surrounded by statues and fountains, shaded with mature trees. One of these statues is of two ballet dancers, Norma Fontenla and Jose Neglia, who danced frequently at the Teatro and were killed in an airplane accident in 1971. However the crowning jewel of the plaza is the Teatro. Although the theatre season is closed, the theatre offers guided tours and our German friends had said it was well worth the money and time. It is considered to be, acoustically, one of the 5 best opera houses in the world along with La Scala, Milan, Italy, and The Royal Opera House in London, England, The Metropolitan Opera House, New York, USA and The Bolshoi in Moscow, Russia. This current theatre replaced the original one which first opened in 1857 and operated for about 35 years. Three architects are credited with the design. Francesco Tamborini began the construction in 1889 but died in 1891. Design was then assumed by his colleague and student, Vittorio Meano who was murdered in 1904. The building was finally completed in 1908 by Belgian architect Julio Dormal. After 20 years of construction, the grand opening was May 25th, 1908 the “Dia de La Patria” (National Day) in Argentina with the first opera being Verdi’s “Aida”. During its first season more than 17 operas were performed with many of the famous stars appearing including tenor Bassi, baritone Ruffi and soprano Crestini and in later years Callas, Caruso and Pavarotti. The building is built in the Italian operatic tradition, with six vast tiers above which is the loggione or gallery where the less wealthy stand, a horseshoe shaped auditorium, to which the incredible acoustics are attributed and enormous stage with orchestra seating. Gorgeous building materials including three types of Italian marble, French stained glass windows and Venetian mosaics were all imported from Europe to create large-scale lavishness. The seven tier main theatre is breath-taking in size where a huge central chandelier with over 700 lights illuminates the red velvet seats and balcony rails. With its sheer size, opulence and acoustics it is easy to see why this is one of the world’s top opera houses. Luciano Pavarotti was once quoted as saying that the theatre’s only “flaw” was “that the acoustics were so good, that every mistake in pitch could be heard”. Although renovated several times, the theatre was closed for four years from 2006 until 2010 for a massive $100 million dollar remodel. However the original design and acoustics were kept along with the rich scarlet and gold furnishings and the cupola frescoes by artist Raul Soldi. I left with echoes of Pavarotti singing Nessum Dorma ringing in my head. Our only regret is that the theatre season runs from late March through December so there are currently no performances we can attend. We would have loved to experience the theatre from the audience point of view. Oh well. Our final stop was to photograph the Obelisk at the Plaza de la Republica. Located on Avenida 9 de Julio, which although credited with being the widest boulevard in the world still manages to be almost continually congested with traffic, the Obelisk was built to commemorate the 4th centenary (400 years) of the city. Designed by architect Alberto Prebisch in 1936, the monument is over 67 meters (220 ft) high. It has been used as a symbol for expression as in December 2005, when it was covered by a giant pink “condom” to recognize Worlds Aid Day, in September 2006 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of La Noche de los Lapices (Night of the Pencil) when students were kidnapped and murdered by the military junta it was converted into a giant pencil, in September 2007, it was covered with the colors of Argentina and Germany to celebrate 15 years of bilateral relations and in May 2010, it was bathed in lights for the Bi-Centennial Celebration of Argentina. The area is similar to Times Square in New York or Piccadilly Circus in London with huge flashing neon LED signs. Quite gaudy but a great photo op. After dodging the traffic and people on 9 de Julio we were both glad to stop at one of the many sidewalk cafes for a beer. The city may revolve around the Obelisk but our thought and conversation still was on the Teatro. What a glorious place and yes, it was worth every cent of the $25.00 (US) entrance fee.