Amazon Theatre, Manaus

The Amazon Theatre (Teatro Amazonas) is an opera house located in the heart of Manaus, inside the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. It is the location of the annual Festival Amazonas de Ópera (Amazonas Opera Festival) held in April.

It was built during the Belle Époque at a time when fortunes were made in the rubber boom. Construction of the Amazon Theater was first proposed in 1881 by a member of the House of Representatives, Antonio Jose Fernandes Júnior, the idea being to construct a jewel in the heart of the Amazonian forest and to make Manaus one of the great centers of civilization.

In the following year the State legislature approved some limited financing, but this was considered insufficient. In 1882, the president of the Province, Jose Lustosa Paranaguá, approved a larger budget and initiated a competition for the presentation of plans. By 1884, construction was ready to begin under the Italian architect Celestial Sacardim who planned for the theatre in the Renaissance style to be state of the art and to include electric lighting.

Work proceeded slowly over the following fifteen years with some stops and re-starts from 1885 to 1892. Roofing tiles came from Alsace while, from Paris, came furniture and furnishings in the style of Louis XV, much from the Koch Fréres company. From Italy came Carrarra marble for the stairs, statues, and columns. Steel walls were ordered from England. The theatre has 198 chandeliers, including 32 of Murano glass. The curtain, with its painting the "Meeting of the Waters" was originally created in Paris by Crispim do Amaral, depicts the junction of the Rio Negro and the Solimões to form the Amazon. On the outside of the building, the dome is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles painted in the colors of the national flag.

Work recommenced in 1893. By 1895, when the masonry work and external was completed, the decoration of the interior, and the installation of electric lighting, could begin more rapidly. The Italian Domenico de Angelis painted the beautiful panels that decorate the ceilings of the auditorium and of the audience chamber. However, even after its inauguration and first public presentations, two more years would pass before the building was finally completed, a project taking seventeen years in all.

The theatre was inaugurated on 31 December 1896, with the first performance occurring on 7 January 1897 with the Italian opera, La Gioconda, by Amilcare Ponchielli.

It has been restored four times, most recently in 1929, 1974 and between 1988 and 1990, and it currently has 701 seats covered with red velvet.

It has been noted that, as of 2001, opera is once again flourishing at the theatre:

Today, the theatre is also the location for an annual film festival.

In popular culture

The theatre is featured in the 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 the interior of house. While it is believed that the house was constructed to attract Caruso to perform at its opening, there is some doubt that he actually did perform there.

It is also featured in the novel Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. This is an adventure story set principally in the city of Manaus and surroundings in 1912, where the theatrer is situated. A visiting acting group performs the play, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" at the theater, which is briefly described.

Author and naturalist Sy Montgomery gives a historical account of the building of the theater in her 2001 book, "Journey of the Pink Dolphins".

It is featured in the 2011 novel "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett.

Building Activity

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