History of music in Buenos Aires

The Teatro Colón in the city of Buenos Aires is regarded as one of the finest theatres in the world, renowned for its acoustics and the artistic value of its construction. Its current venue celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008.

Bounded by Cerrito Street, Viamonte Street, Tucumán Street and Libertad Street, in the heart of the city of Buenos Aires, it was inaugurated on May 25th 1908 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda. This venue replaced the original theatre, which operated between 1857 and 1888 in the block that now houses the offices of Banco Nación (Bank of the Argentine Nation), facing Plaza de Mayo.

The construction of the present theatre took 20 years. Its cornerstone was laid on May 25th 1890 with the intention of inaugurating it by October 12th 1892, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The initial project was designed by architect Francesco Tamburini, and after his death in 1891 he was succeeded by his partner, architect Victor Meano, designer of the Palace of the National Congress of Argentina. Construction continued until 1894 but was delayed due to financial difficulties. In 1904, after Meano's death, the government appointed Belgian architect Jules Dormal to finish the construction. Dormal made some structural modifications and left his mark in the French style of the decoration.

 Towards the end of 1907, the theatre's first lease agreement was signed, although the final stages of construction were delayed from the set date for the opening of the hall on May 25th 1908. The first production was nonetheless performed by Grand Italian Opera Company on that date in the theatre's main hall, regardless of the unfinished parts of the theatre such as the Golden Room (Salón Dorado) and the iron marquees overlooking Libertad Street and Cerrito Street.

Building dimensions, characteristics, expansions and renovations

The building's style is eclectic, which is typical of the early 20th century. It covers 8,202 square metres, of which 5,006 are part of the main building and 3,196 are underground annexes of the Arturo Toscanini passage (adjacent to the theatre, parallel to Viamonte Street). The total covered area of the old building is 37,884 square metres. The subsequent expansions, specially those made towards the end of the 1960s by architect Mario Roberto Álvarez, added 12,000 square metres, making the total floor area of the Teatro Colón 58,000 square metres.

 The main hall is horseshoe-shaped and complies with the most severe standards of classic Italian and French theatre. It is surrounded by box seats up to the third story. The horseshoe is 29.25 metres wide at its narrowest point and 32.65 at its widest, and 28 metres high. It seats a total of 2,478 people, and has standing room for around 500 more. The dome measures 318 square metres and had been painted by Marcel Jambon but it deteriorated by the thirties. In the 1960s the task of repainting it was entrusted to Argentinian painter Raúl Soldi, and it was finished by 1966.

The stage has a slope of 3 centimetres per metre and is 35.25 metres wide, 34.50 metres deep, and 48 metres high. It has a revolving disk of 20.3 metres of diameter that can be electronically operated to rotate in any direction and quickly change scenes. In 1988, the forestage grid was modernized to facilitate the handling of the sets and the changing of the scenes..

The orchestra pit can accommodate 120 musicians. It has a treatment to increase resonance and specific curves to reflect sound. These characteristics, the architectural proportions of the hall, and the quality of the materials all contribute to the exceptional acoustics of the Teatro Colón, world-renowned as one of the best.

Theatre's workshops

The Teatro Colón produces its shows in their entirety in its own workshops, which are located in the basements. In 1938 the basement was expanded under the lateral square on Arturo Toscanini Street, and a tunnel was built to connect the workshops. That same year, the Machinery, Scenography, Props, Tailoring, Shoemaking, Tapestry, Set Mechanics, Sculpture, Photography, Makeup and Hairstyling workshops were created.

In 1963, the Props Decoration and Costume Painting workshop was created. From 1968 to 1972, a second expansion was directed by architect Mario Roberto Álvarez, continuing on under the square and Cerrito Street. That is the where the theatre production sectors, scenography workshops, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices and a staff canteen are located. The technical area of Production Design and the Lighting Technology, Mechanical Special Effects and Audio and Video workshops were incorporated later on. In 2000 the Executive Branch of the City, through the Subsecretary of Cultural Heritage, called on the General Direction of Infrastructure to create a "Master Plan" to raise the value of the building and update the technology of the stage box.

Artists who have performed on its stage

The list of artists who have performed in the theatre since it opened in 1908 is immense. Their performances on this stage have shaped its great musical tradition and a world-renowned prestige. The list includes composers such as Richard Strauss, Arthur Honegger, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Camille Saint-Saëns, Manuel de Falla, Aaron Copland, Krzysztof Penderecki, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Héctor Panizza, Juan José Castro, Gerardo Gandini and Mauricio Kagel. Different generations of conductors performed in our hall, like Arturo Toscanini, Erich Kleiber, Fritz Busch, Ernest Ansermet, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Tulio Serafin, Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Karl Böhm, Fernando Previtali, Lorin Maazel, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Kurt Masur, Michel Corboz, Riccardo Chailly, Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, René Jacobs and the Argentinians Daniel Barenboim, Gabriel Garrido and Miguel Ángel Veltri, among others.

The long list of singers includes, among thousands of names, the tenors Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Lauritz Melchior, Mario del Monaco, Richard Tucker, Wolfgang Windgassen, Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, the sopranos Claudia Muzio, Lily Pons, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Kirsten Flagstad, Victoria de los Ángeles, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Montserrat Caballé, Eva Marton, Kiri Te Kanawa, Katia Ricciarelli, Mirella Freni, June Anderson and Renée Fleming, the mezzo-sopranos Fedora Barbieri, Marilyn Horne, Teresa Berganza, Christa Ludwig, Régine Crespin, Frederica von Stade, Waltraud Meier and Cecilia Bartoli, the baritones Titta Ruffo, Leonard Warren, Hans Hotter Cornell MacNeil, Hermann Prey, Sherrill Milnes, José van Dam and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and the bass Fiodor Chaliapin, Borís Christoff, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Samuel Ramey. Argentinian artists who have developed important international carreers have also sang at the Colón, such as Delia Rigal, Luis Lima, Raúl Giménez, Ana María González, Renato Cesari, Ricardo Cassinelli, Gian-Piero Mastromei, Ángel Mattiello, Carlo Cossutta, Carlos Guichandut, Cecilia Díaz, Paula Almerares, Marcelo Álvarez, José Cura, Darío Volonté and Virginia Tola.

Among the biggest names in dance who have performed in the Colón stand out Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Alicia Alonso, Maia Plissetskaya, Margot Fonteyn, Mijail Barishnikov, Vladimir Vassiliev, Antonio Gades and the Argentinians María Ruanova, Olga Ferri, Michel Borovsky, José Neglia, Norma Fontenla, Wasil Tupin, Esmeralda Agloglia, Jorge Donn, Julio Bocca, Maximiliano Guerra and Paloma Herrera.

Prestigious régisseurs have worked in our opera seasons, such as Ernst Poettgen, Margarita Wallmann, Otto Erhart, Cecilio Madanes, Roberto Oswald, Jorge Lavelli, Gilbert Defló, Nicolas Joel, Pier Luigi Pizzi and Hugo de Ana, along with prominent costume and set designers like Nicolas Benois, Paul Walter, Aníbal Lapiz, José Luciano Varona, Raúl Soldi, Guillermo Roux, Ezio Frigerio, Franca Squarciapino and Graciela Galán. 

The world's leading orchestras have performed at the Teatro Colón, such as The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, The New York Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. Outstanding instrumental soloists have shined on our stage, like Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel, Paco De Lucía, Antonio De Raco, Nelson Freire, Bruno Gelber, Friedrich Gulda, Gidon Kremer, Alberto Lysy, David Oistrakh, Manuel Rego, Narciso Yepes, Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Ralph Votapek and Misha Maiski, among many others.

Important historical events

1908 to 1925

From 1908 until 1925, the Teatro Colón was organized under a system of concessionaire companies under contract with the Municipality of Buenos Aires. Its artistic and financial obligations were stipulated in the contract, and they functioned under the control of special commissions that intended to better represent subscription holders. This system worked well until the end of World War I, when the audience started to demand that the repertoire be not only Italian, as was the case in most of the concessionaire companies.


In 1925 the Municipality of Buenos Aires created the permanent companies of the Teatro Colón (the Orchestra, the Choir, the Ballet and the technical staff), and for five years the permanent companies and the concessionaire companies shared the theatre's seasons.


In 1931 the city representatives decided to definitely turn the Teatro Colón over to the municipal government, and it became a municipal utility with its own budget. 


In 1937, the Escuela de Ópera del Teatro Colón (Opera School of the Teatro Colón) was created. It was renamed Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón (Higher Institute of Art of the Teatro Colón) in 1960, at the request of Alberto Ginastera, Enrique Sivieri and Michel Borovsky. A fundamental asset for teaching, it has been run on different floors of the building. It offers training programmes in classical dance, classical singing, régie, opera conduction, and theatrical characterization.


The Buenos Aires Philharmonic was made permanent in the theatre. It was created in 1946 and since 1950 it has performed in a series of Subscription Seasons in the hall, and participated in the performances of the Theatre's Permanent Ballet.


The Municipality of Buenos Aires created the Ópera de Cámara del Teatro Colón (Chamber Opera of the Teatro Colón), the cast of which has consisted of some of the most remarkable singers of the house.


In this year, the Teatro Colón was declared a National Historic Monument.


In 1990 the Teatro Colón Experimentation Centre was created, with the aim of promoting leading-edge artistic activities.


Towards the end of this year, the theatre closed its doors to begin a process of conservative restoration, and its activities were held in alternative halls in the City.  


In 2008 the City of Buenos Aires legislature sanctioned the Ley de Autarquía del Teatro Colón, a law to make the theatre into the Ente Autártico Teatro Colón, a self-governing entity within the scope of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, with its own legal personality, functional autonomy and financial self-management. Its mission is to "create, shape, represent and promote lyric art, choreography and music- both symphonic and chamber- and experimental art, in its highest expression, in accordance with historic tradition, within the framework of the cultural policies of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires."


By decision of the Head of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, the restoration work was concluded and, on May 24th of the same year, the General and Artistic Direction was entrusted to Pedro Pablo García Caffi. The theatre reopened in all its glory with a special performance that included the second act of La Bohème and the third act of Swan Lake. That same year, the visit of the Orchestra and Choir of the Teatro alla Scala of Milan under the direction of Daniel Barenboim marked the highest peak of celebration for the reopening of the hall to the community. The Bicentennial Subscription Season (Abono Bicentenario) was created, showcasing first-rate international artists of the music world.


The first edition of the Festival de Música y Reflexión (Music and Reflection Festival) was produced under the artistic direction of Daniel Barenboim, with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a guest, and the long-awaited return of the great pianist Martha Argerich.


Darío Lopérfido was appointed General and Artistic Director of the Teatro Colón, to follow the guidelines set since the reopening of the hall, and foster community-centred activities as well as integrating other artistic disciplines and festivals in the city.


In December 2015, María Victoria Alcaraz is named General Director of the Teatro Colón. The guiding objective of its management focuses on strengthening the institution through innovation and modernization in the administration of the theatre, the incorporation and training of new audiences, and  inviting residents of the City to enjoy the experience of the Theatre; recovering its identity through the preservation, conservation and enhancement of its heritage; increasing and deepening the linkage of the Theatre with other art institutions in the country and abroad, maintaining eminence in artistic proposals. In education, promoting the exchange for academic purposes with other institutions, coordinating training processes with the Theater, in order to achieve maximum academic excellence.