by NÉSTOR ECHEVARRÍA
The subject of the lyric theaters in the interior of Argentina undoubtedly deserves a singular examination and analysis, since they are connected with the advent of opera in our milieu and at the same time with concepts of society and its growth, the development of immigration and a whole problematic that has to do with a great part of national history.
Because shortly after the integration of opera into the cultural spectrum of the city of Buenos Aires, in its post-colonial evolutionary phase, with a first performance in 1825 of “Il barbiere di Siviglia” by Gioacchino Rossini, by the company of Mariano Pablo Rosquellas (Spanish tenor who arrived in La Plata with Maestro Massoni and a group of singers to offer the first integral performances in the old provisional Coliseum) the lyric art was taking its affirmative phase in the still Great Village and produce its consequent expansion and empowerment.
This process amalgamates two phases, the gradual assimilation of opera as a spectacle and the gradual improvement and progress in this architectural typology, based on European models, particularly of Italian influence. This fact is clearly reflected in the evolution of Buenos Aires theaters, but also in the resonance that the subject has had in our country and its main cities.
That is why in this article I will deal mainly with those theaters of Argentine cities and provinces, which of course have a wide influence of our main city and capital of the country, Buenos Aires. I leave for another note the specific reference to the evolution of theaters and opera in the capital.
Great expansive stage
The period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw an extraordinary stage of architectural growth in the cities of the interior of the country, parallel to a reception of opera performances, at that time also known as the “bel époque”.
The municipalities began to take charge of the construction of Italian-style theaters, according to the typological model in force in the old world. And so we find in the city of Cordoba, for example, the emergence of the Rivera Indarte Theater (today Libertador Gral San Martin), work of the architect Francesco Tamburini, the first professional involved in the project of the current Colón in Buenos Aires almost immediately, which generated one of the largest and most important theaters in the country, a conspicuous model of Italian academicism. It was the time when the introduction of Europeanizing models was driving the nineteenth-century architectural fashion. Inaugurated in 1891, one hundred and thirty years old, it is still in force and its moments of a long and brilliant past are in harmony with the cultural destiny of the people of Córdoba. It is one of the most active in the country today.
Meanwhile, the new capital of the province of Buenos Aires was already in action. With the creation of the Teatro Argentino de La Plata, today, due to its institutional enclave and activity, it is considered the second lyric theater in the country, after the Colón in Buenos Aires. The city of La Plata, founded by Dardo Rocha in 1882, with the growth of buildings could not be deprived of an important theater, located in a strategic place of the urban plan of the Frenchman, Pierre Benoit, and the primitive project of the Italian architect Leopoldo Rocchi responded faithfully to its setting and environment of the new capital, with its accentuated Italian academicist concept, the “a ferro di cavallo” hall so emblematic in the peninsula and the general and ornamental conception. It was inaugurated with Verdi’s “Otello” personified by the Uruguayan tenor Jose Oxilia. And he knew of valuable seasons.
The destruction by the voracious fire of 1977 gave rise to a competition of preliminary projects from which emerged the new idea, monumentalist and also “brutalist” according to the post-lecurbusian current of that time, of the platense study Garcia, Germani, Rubio and others, that with its diverse rooms, ample surfaces and a general idea of an octagon that refers to the plot of streets and diagonals typical of the platense geometry, were giving the current vision of an important and representative theater of the provincial doing, from its inauguration in 1999. The new Teatro Argentino is now back in operation.
But it should also be noted that La Plata had already inaugurated the construction of its first theater with a project by Uruguayan Carlos Zenhdorf four years after its foundation. The Politeama Olimpo, later renamed Coliseo Podestà and still in use today, with its “alla italiana” hall and its simple typology, now belongs to the municipality of La Plata and has been suitably restored to its original function as a prose theater.
By provinces and cities
This true invasion of lyric theaters (because the typology distinguishes it), although many of these theaters fulfill heteroclite, varied and eclectic functions in their artistic programming, are emerging in the provincial capitals and in important cities, as in the case of Rosario in the province of Santa Fe.
Very early came the lyric to the public of Rosario, in the final decades of the nineteenth century and when the Sociedad anónima “Teatro la Ópera” decided to build an important theater on the corner of Laprida and Mendoza of the so-called “Chicago Argentina”, the work began in charge of the Italic professionals Cremona and Contri, and then was interrupted for several years (a typical phenomenon at the time, as it also happened to the Colón in Buenos Aires, for example).
When the company was sold and a new contractor appeared and the works were awarded to the German engineer George Goldammer, the objective could be achieved. The Opera of Rosario opened its doors on June 7, 1904, years of glories, of virtuous singers (the great Enrico Caruso, infallible when his presence in our country) were giving shine to the opera in Rosario in a singularly endowed theater, with its Italian form and its one thousand five hundred seats, that was rivaling with the more modest Colón of Rosario, inaugurated the same year and demolished when the half of the XX century arrived. After painful abandonment, the Opera House was acquired by the Cultural Association El Círculo, of long tradition in the city, in 1943, originating the definitive change of its name to Teatro El Círculo de Rosario. Another active protagonist of this time in operatic matters in the interior of the country.
But without leaving the province of Santa Fe, also the capital, Santa Fe de la Veracruz did not give up in the task of providing its own theater, promoted by the Municipality, being its name Municipal Theater 1º de Mayo. With plans of Augusto Plou it was inaugurated on October 5, 1905 with “La Gioconda” by Ponchielli, by the Italian company of Antonio Marranti, which circulated a lot in the provinces.
In the littoral: the same lands for new theaters.
The case of the littoral provinces is interesting because in its historical evolution the theaters of the capital cities of Entre Ríos and Corrientes were built on the basis of demolishing and replacing even older stages, damaged and damaged for various reasons.
On October 18, 1908, the 3 de Febrero Theater of Paranà was inaugurated, a significant work for the capital of Entre Ríos, for which the mayor of that time summoned the Swiss architect Lorenzo Siegrist to build in the physical place where a precedent existed since 1851, built by Justo Jose de Urquiza, whose state and conservation was deficient. It was sought with it an “aggiornamento” in the matter. And the theater of Paraná has a pleasant imprint, with a capacity of 850 spectators and especially in the foyer there is a sample of the Central European bias of its author beyond the conventionalism of its hall.
The case of the Teatro Juan de Vera, in Corrientes, also coincides in similar circumstances. A previous theater replaced by the present one, which was inaugurated on May 25 -always recurrent date- in 1913, with “Aida” and on stage with the Marrante company, which was on a permanent pilgrimage through the Argentine interior, having been in charge of inaugural acts of resonance in several lyric theaters.
It is also worth mentioning in both provinces of the Argentine Mesopotamia, two theaters declared historical monuments, in the case of Entre Ríos the one of Gualeguaychú whose opening dates from 1914 and that was recently restored and put in value, as well as the very old one of the locality of Goya, in Corrientes, The last one was the Italian Santiago Solari, who acquired it in 1927 until the last decade of the century, when he died, the theater was taken over by his successors to become the Municipal “Solari” of the city of Goya. Modest hall of six hundred seats, but undoubtedly of a commendable patrimonial value.
Other management models: San Nicolás and private contributions
When the theatrical undertakings had to do with funds allocated by the municipalities, or by private entities, the collaboration of the neighbors in a work undertaken by the municipality turned out to be an atypical management model.
This happened in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, with the construction of the Rafael de Aguiar Municipal Theater, inaugurated the same year as the Colón in Buenos Aires, 1908, but three months later, since it opened on August 10 with Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with the Bernabei Company, which included the soprano Adelina Agostinelli. Imported materials, original Thonet chairs, everything made this theater a true feat in a San Nicolas, by then still developing in urban and population density.
And while we are on the subject of the province of Buenos Aires, we must highlight the importance for Bahía Blanca of its Municipal Theater, inaugurated on August 9, 1913, a major project for the southern city of the province, with excellent and very favorable urban planning, with nobility of style in the work of the architects Dunant and Mallet, who gave a certain nobility in their eclecticism to the exterior aspect and a hall of ponderable acoustics, which also opened with “Aida” (a very recurrent opera, as it is noticed, in theaters of our country, including the Colón) by the aforementioned company of Antonio Marranti.
In the Northwest and the Cuyo region
Also official is in the garden of the Republic, Tucumán and in its capital San Miguel, the San Martín Theater. Currently restored, its distant date as Teatro Odeon dates back to 1912, when it was inaugurated on May 18, acquiring in the middle of the century the name of the Father of the Nation.
Meanwhile in Mendoza, the Independencia, inaugurated on November 18, 1925, already in the twenties, becomes the main protagonist of the varied activity of theater and music, in recent years, after convenient enhancement, mostly appreciable.
The modern Auditorium of San Juan, as a referential landmark of music in that province of Cuyo, cannot be left unmentioned. Although it cannot be conceptualized as a lyric theater in its specific typology, but as a valuable testimony of a concert hall, it is since 1970 an important referent of the provincial culture, bearing the name of “Auditorio Juan Victoria” in homage to the engineer of that name who was one of the champions of the reconstruction after the voracious earthquake of 1944 that hit San Juan.
And precisely, since we are talking about the Cuyo province of San Juan on October 21, 2016 the most recent lyric theater in the country was inaugurated, called Teatro del Bicentenario (Bicentennial Theater) for coinciding with that emblematic anniversary of the declaration of our Independence. This new and most recent theater in the analysis made here of the Argentine interior, is located in front of the Civic Center of the capital city of San Juan, and with an updated architectural design, its traditional horseshoe style hall, can accommodate 1,100 spectators and also has generous complementary dependencies.
The inauguration of the San Juan theater had resonance, since the profane cantata “Carmina Burana”, by Carl Orff, was offered in scenic form, with the staging of the famous Catalan group “La fura dels Baus”, accompanied musically by soloists, the choir of the Province of San Juan and the Symphonic Orchestra of the National University of San Juan conducted by maestro Emmanuel Seiffert.
And to complete this panorama it will be necessary to settle the Argentine Northwest with its provinces of Salta and Jujuy, where in the first one and its capital city. Salta, the provincial theater also has its history based on a nineteenth-century theater, called Victoria, eventually replaced by the current one, with the conversion to theater-cinema, which the architect Alberto Prebisch, a mainstay of our architectural rationalism, conferred on it in the forties. It is now the Provincial Theater of Salta.
And as for the northern province of Jujuy, extreme in our geography, the historical and already centenary Mitre Theater of San Salvador de Jujuy whose opening dates back to 1901 in its modest architectural context and declared historical monument, with its capacity for 470 spectators shows the guidelines of the epoch that with correct restorations reaches the present day.
Colophon: Greater Buenos Aires
The communication between the core of the big city, as it happens with other metropolises of the world, makes Buenos Aires city (that is to say, the capital city) is circumscribed by highways and the so-called Riachuelo and faces the Rio de la Plata.
But this environment is linked to the so-called greater Buenos Aires, suburban, or in other terms more fashionable today, the metropolitan area. These municipalities of the greater Buenos Aires also had in their time settlements and growth of immigrants, who formed their societies of promotion and charity. In short, the great contribution of the collectivities.
They contributed in the societies of the past with the construction of valuable theaters, with smaller seating capacity and thus we find in the Municipality of Avellaneda, in the south side of the capital, the Teatro Roma, inaugurated in 1904, which went from being a product of the Italian community to municipal and today, well restored, also offers lyrical shows with a seating capacity of no more than six hundred people.
In the same way the municipalities of Lomas de Zamora, Zarate, Lujan, have had developments, as well as towns of the extensive province of Buenos Aires, the most populated in the country, such as Bragado, where the famous Basque tenor Florencio Constantino, who was discovered as a farm laborer, called to study and become a well-known international opera tenor, who reached the “Met” in New York and also sang at the Colon porteño. Once the Basque tenor reached the pinnacle of his operatic career, he donated a theater with his name to his beloved Bragado.
The Constantino Theater of Bragado, long abandoned -it had opened with the presence of the tenor in 1912- has been restored and put in value as a landmark of the city. Other municipalities in the province, such as General Pueyrredón, with its capital in Mar del Plata, the busiest and most famous tourist city in the country, boasts a Colon Municipal Theater, originally a product of the Spanish community, normally used for concerts and sometimes for opera, and the Astor Piazzolla Auditorium of Mar del Plata’s Casino, which has also been used for opera performances in its plurality of genres.
I close here, this brief booklet dedicated to the lyric movement and its theaters in the interior of Argentina, covering the wide and varied spectrum of the analyzed subject.
Buenos Aires, November 2020