The Teatro Colón: more than a theater

The tradition of bringing the world beauty, talent and magic.
Room from Stage -Press Teatro Colón. Photo Máximo Parpagnoli. @teatrocolon on Instagram

The theatre is the place where magic happens. Stories come to life and the only limit is the imagination. The Teatro Colón (Colón Theatre) is no ordinary theater; it is one of the five best opera houses in the world. In the Colón Theatre, magic is not only reserved for the stage. Located in Buenos Aires, the Colón Theatre is the jewel of the city and lives in the center of her art scene.

Much can be said of its architecture. The design is a mixture of Italian, German and French components. This eclectic building is typical of the early twentieth century. The Colón is situated among the Cerrito, Viamonte, Tucumán and Libertad streets. The current building was not the first home of the institution. This theatre opened in 1908 with the opera Aida Giuseppe Verdi.  Aside from operas, Colón theatre-goers can also see various ballets and concerts. The theatre is home to the Permanent Ballet Company, Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra, Permanent Choir and  Permanent Orchestra. Virtually all the great conductors, interpreters of the universal lyrical, and prominent figures in dance are received at the Colón.

The theatre itself, which covers 5,006 square meters, is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the main building is 3,196 square meters of offices divided into three levels of basement where all production activity occurs. As an opera house. the building has unique features such as its own workshops used to produce most scenery, backdrops, costumes and anything else the productions may need. If you're fortunate enough to access them, you will discover a magical world where talent, art and passion are the standard.

La Nube and Others 2012-Press Teatro Colón. Photo Máximo Parpagnoli.

La Nube and Others 2012-Press Teatro Colón. Photo Máximo Parpagnoli. @teatrocolon on Instagram

In 1938, underground floors below the square were extended and connected through a tunnel to create production workshops including everything from hair and makeup to special effects and scenery, and even workshops specifically for shoes.  While stage workshops are still located in the Colón Theatre, most carpentry, machinery, props and sculptures are located in the neighborhood of Chacarita. Everyone working in the workshops are artists who labor tirelessly to bring fantasy to life. After more than 100 years of history, the staggering amount of clothing, wigs, shoes and other lovingly-made, detailed pieces is every designer's dream. To work at the Colón, applicants must go through many demanding interviews and auditions. Only the best succeed. Still, you need years of experience working there to learn how to tackle any challenge. One thing is certain, every member of the team must have talent, imagination and be able to work together and work hard.

Another pillar of the theatre is education; the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), before the extensive restoration in 2001 and 2010, lived in the underground area of the building. Now in a separate building a few blocks away at 1516 Viamonte Street, the ISA is an educational institution that has produced singers, dancers, musicians, stage directors, and other prominent figures in the performing arts. Some notable names are dancers Julio BoccaPaloma HerreraMarianela NuñezIñaki UrlezagaHerman Cornejo and singers Bernarda FinkAna María GonzálezMaria Cristina Kiehr, and Raúl Giménez. Being accepted into this institution means studying under the best teachers  in the business. The school offers training in classical dance, classical singing, orchestra academy, opera stage direction, theatrical characterization and opera music production. They also offer short courses over the summer. As part of pre-professional training, students have the opportunity to participate in performances and tours in various theatres across the city and country, like the works presented in the Konex, an alternative, innovative and avant-garde cultural space in Buenos Aires that is part of the Konex Foundation. Some of these students start very young, and the path to greatness is not without its difficulties. Having talent and vocation is not enough. The competition is relentless and necessary for those who seek to be the best in their profession, so family support is invaluable. As in all such institutions in the world, students, seeking excellence, often commute for hours or move from their hometowns to be closer to school. Many do not succeed. But even in these cases, most agree that all the sacrifices were worth it, just to be part of that world, have the opportunity to learn from the best and have the experience of living the theatre. The ISA is definitely the seedbed of theatre.

Since 1990 the Colón Theatre has worked with

Painting Clothing -Press Teatro Colón. Photo Máximo Parpagnoli.

Painting Clothing -Press Teatro Colón. Photo Máximo Parpagnoli. @teatrocolon on Instagram

The Experimentation Centre, which celebrated its  25th anniversary with an open call for ideas or proposals. The CETC (its Spanish acronym) is a productive structure that allows a creative space where the public can see new worksencouraging the formation of new repertoires and the renovation of the old. Performing arts of different genres present the latest trends in stage arts, and seek to honor its original mission of linking tradition and innovation. Almost everything generated in the CETC is specially commissioned and produced at the Colón Theatre.

Far gone is the idea that opera houses are only for the wealthy. Since 1946, Peronism momentum, a policy of musical openness and democratization of the public that was reversed in 1955 and resumed in 1983, has made the theater a community experience that involves everyone with its participatory spirit.  Open-door concerts feature popular artists and bring in people who would not normally go to the theatre, assisting in the breaking down of barriers and prejudices. At these types of concerts it is common to hear young people talk excitedly and with some trepidation, guessing how it will be, if they will be able to hear well or if they are dressed appropriately. Luckily, there is not a single place in the theater where the sound is not exceptional. For many of these young theatre-goers, while it may be the first time they visit, it will not be the last.

Entering the theater for the first time is a thrill, and the excitement does not wear out over time. It is difficult for any music lover not to fall in love with the almost perfect acoustics. In fact, for music lovers, the best place to hear the "Paraiso" (paradise) is the space popularly known as "Gallinero" (chicken coop). This is located at the top of the theatre and is known for not having seats, which requires stamina of the audience, since many pieces lasts several hours. In addition to its normal season's performances, the Colón also hosts the Summer Festival which opens the 2016 season with free outdoor performances in the Vatican square, located next to Columbus, as well as free public open rehearsals. Free tickets are sometimes available for the alert and well-informed audience member.

The Colón has much to offer for artists, applicants, and viewers alike. If what you love is the performing arts, you need only to come and the theatre will welcome you with open arms.