A highlight to any vacation to Brazil is the Amazon, and Manaus is the undisputed gateway and home to a unique historical gem, the Teatro Amazonas. With music and theater performances from around the globe, some of the world’s most famous musicians and artists, and a historic background that intrigues even the most casual of explorers, what more could opera fans ask for? How about a beautiful and tropical location in the heart of the Amazon rainforest? Believe it or not, that is possible in the Brazilian city of Manaus and its stunning Manaus Opera House.
The Manaus Opera House, otherwise known as the Teatro Amazonas (Praca Sao Sebastiao, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily except Sunday, guided tour only (in English), $7) is a spectacular monument to what money and serious taste can do.
In the 19th Century, Manaus was at the center of the rubber boom. Rubber barons generated obscene personal wealth and the city became an architectural playground for those with cash in their pockets. The $10m opera house was built at the height of the city’s opulence, offering what was then the finest in European craftsmanship. It was painstakingly built over 12 years and was inaugurated on December 31, 1896. The opera house was completely restored in 1990 and now has a capacity for 701 avid opera lovers.
The lobby, theater and upstairs ballroom are filled with Murano chandeliers. The seats, individual armchairs made from the local jacaranda wood and polished to a gleam, date from the opera house’s opening. Its floor is laid with rainforest woods, the same used in La Scala, the ballroom on its own composed of 12,000 pieces laid without glue or nails.
Outside balconies are of Portuguese stone, the doors are Parisian originals, and the curtain, from Tiffany’s, is painted with an image of the Meeting of the Waters, a must-see in itself on any Brazilian Amazon cruise itinerary.
The unique dome was constructed so that the spectacular curtain could be raised and lowered without folding or rolling it, and the dome itself is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles painted in the colors of the national flag of Brazil.
The theater ceiling was painted in Paris and reassembled in Manaus, incredibly depicting what it is like to stand looking up at the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to check out the vents under alternate rows of seats to see what passed for air-conditioning in 1896!
Even when outside the theater, the attention to detail is astounding. Look for a few of the surviving rubber-coated bricks in the driveways, designed to muffle the sounds of approaching carriages so as to not disrupt the performances inside!
Did you know the Manaus Opera House is featured in the famous film Fitzcarraldo directed by the German director Werner Herzog in 1982?
At the beginning of the film, the opera-obsessed character Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald makes his way to the opera house to hear Enrico Caruso sing in Verdi’s Ernani. He arrives right at the end of the opera and there are scenes of its interior.
While it is believed that the theater was constructed to attract Caruso to perform at its opening, there is some doubt that he actually did perform there. Interestingly the Ayapua riverboat – which has been converted into a museum in Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon – was used in the making of this film.
Be prepared for sensory overload as not only the sights and sounds of the Amazonian jungle but also the best in both classical and modern music and theater await those travelers venturing to the annual Amazonas Opera Festival, held in April and May of each year.
The venue of course being the Teatro Amazonas, the stunning Belle Époque opera house in Manaus. Unforgettable performances from the Italian opera, such as La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, have left their mark on the Amazonian theater, which is now home to the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra. The month-long festival brings the artistic grandeur of opera to life and is a great occasion to visit the opera house, which remains an integral part of the history of Manaus, the Amazon and indeed Brazil.
Originally envisioned as a “jewel in the heart of the Amazon rainforest” before its construction was proposed, this amazing architectural and acoustical wonder to this day still lives up to this vision. Any traveler seeking world-class performances and cultural tradition awash in vibrant, living history should add the Manaus Opera House to their list of destinations, even if the opera festival is on or not!
**Please note that the musical program is only published a month prior to the festival, and so we are unable to give details of the operas to be seen before then.
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