Topic: Reopening of Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires delayed by two years...


Opera buffa
Jul 10th 2008 | BUENOS AIRES
From The Economist print edition

A landmark theatre’s years of darkness

WHEN the Teatro Colón, Latin America’s most famous opera house, closed for refurbishment in November 2006, Buenos Aires city officials vowed that it would reopen in time for its centenary on May 25th 2008. But when the great day arrived, the theatre’s golden proscenium arch was still in pieces on the floor, alongside plywood boards, while scaffolding rose the full 28-metre (92-foot) height of its dome. To kick off the celebrations, the Colón’s resident symphony orchestra was obliged to perform in a neighbouring theatre specialising in musicals, where it had to use microphones instead of relying on the opera house’s fabulous natural acoustics.

Opened in 1908 and modelled on Milan’s La Scala, the ornate 2,400-seat Colón is a treasured landmark, visited by some 70% of foreign tourists to Buenos Aires. Yet for years the theatre, paid for and run by the city government, suffered from physical neglect and labour strife. In 2005 a sudden strike forced the cancellation of an opera after the audience had taken its seats.

The refurbishment has been plagued by delays and lack of funds. After taking over in December, a new conservative mayor, Mauricio Macri, found that only 30% of the repairs were complete. He decreed that the theatre should remain shut until Argentina’s bicentennial celebrations in May 2010. After a halt to re-evaluate the plans, the city recently signed a $2m contract with an international consulting firm to oversee the $40m project; officials expect work to resume this month.

Mr Macri also wants the Colón to become an autonomous agency, making it easier for its director to hire and fire. The theatre’s staff of 1,500 is about 50% bigger than that of most of its European counterparts. The plan is to shrink the staff by a third through natural wastage.

Officials now have enough confidence in their revised timetable to have begun signing contracts with visiting stars for the 2010 season. The resident artistes will be happy to end their enforced exile in often unsuitable venues around the city. But opera-goers may have reason to miss the old Colón. Because the plans for the building were lost, nobody knows precisely why music sounded so good there. They will have to wait another two years to find out whether it still does.