Renowned composers such as Richard Strauss and Manuel de Falla, as well as great conductors, Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim, proudly bowed to standing ovations. On several occasions, the Teatro Colon had the privilege of hosting world famous voices: Enrico Caruso, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti. Legendary sopranos such as Maria Callas and Montserrat Caballe also honored the stage and captivated audiences. World-renowned ballet dancers, such as Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Maia Plissetskaya, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Antonio Gades and Argentine Julio Bocca, Maximiliano Guerra and Paloma Herrera to name a few, mesmerized by their grace.
Located opposite the Plaza de Mayo, the first Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires was not far from the Presidential Palace. Colon opened in 1857 with a capacity to hold 2,500 seated viewers. It remained open until 1888 when the building was demolished to begin the construction of another theater on a grander scale. The strong influence of European architecture figured considerably in the blueprints presented by architect Francisco Tamburini. The plans dazzled the society and government of the time. Finally, after 20 years in construction, on May 25, 1908, the Colón Theater opened its doors: inaugurating with the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.
The imposing building encapsulates characteristics of the Italian Renaissance, combined with details typical of German architecture, accompanied by the grace and diversity of French style. The façade shows some elements of Greek Revival, and the great stage room follows the classic horseshoe shape of Italian opera houses— although the dimensions of the halls and lobbies are closer to the French model of the Garnier Opera.
The enormous entrance hall is lined with Verona marble and faux marble on stucco. Marble of various types and origins were the preferred choice used in decorating the halls, salons, and staircases. The main staircase is made of white Carrara marble and its railings are styled with marble from Portugal. At the foot of the stairs, the railings on both sides are finished with two lion heads carved by hand. The foundations of the stairs on the first floor are clad in black marble from Belgium.
Especially noteworthy is the Hall of the Busts, where the pedestals that support the columns and pilasters have facings mimicking botticino marble. Another detail to note is the cornices where the statues rest, all embellished with gold plating. The columns in the Golden Hall are carved then decorated in gold. The furniture is French, done in exquisite marquetry. The sofas and chairs are upholstered in a luxurious pale pink fabric.
The stained glass windows were incorporated into the decor by the Italian architect, Vittorio Meano and were made by the prestigious Parisian firm Gaudin in 1907. Meano worked together with Tamburini on Teatro Colon, until the later’s death in 1890 at which time Meano took charge of the project. In 1904, after the tragic passing of Meano, the job of Teatro Colon was taken over and completed by the Belgian architect, Jules Dormal. ■