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The Oldest Opera House in the Americas Celebrates 150 Years

By Vivien Schweitzer
13 Sep 2006

The exterior and the auditorium of the renovated Teatro Solís in Montevideo, Uruguay.
photo by Teatro Solís

Montevideo's Teatro Solís, the oldest opera house still in use in the Western Hemisphere, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Construction on the building began in 1840 and the hall was inaugurated on August 25, 1856 with a performance of Verdi's Ernani. (The oldest opera house in the United States, the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, opened almost exactly five months later; it celebrates its sesquicentennial next January.)

The opening of the Teatro Solís was a major coup for the young nation of Uruguay, whose first constitution was written barely two decades earlier. The Italian architect Carlo Zucchi began work on the building; he was followed by the Spaniard Francisco Xavier Garmendia.

The theater, which owes its name to Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís (who arrived at the Río de la Plata, the broad river separating Uruguay and Argentina, in 1515), was closed from 1998 until 2004 for major renovations. Rodolfo Fuentes, director of the acoustical renovations, said that with the €11 million reconstruction he hoped to transform "the oldest hall in South America into the most modern," according to Agence France-Presse.

Legendary performers who have appeared at the Teatro Solís include Enrico Caruso, Arthur Rubinstein, Isadora Duncan, Andrés Segovia, Anna Pavlova, Alexander Godunov, Sarah Bernhardt, Margarita Xirgú, Vivian Leigh, Ruggero Ruggieri, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave.

The gala production presented on the actual anniversary date (August 25) was Puccini's Tosca, staged by Argentine director Roberto Oswald with Federico García Vigil conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra of Montevideo. The final opera production of the Teatro Solís's sesquicentennial season, running from September 22-28, will be Verdi's La traviata, in a production from New York City Opera (with costumes from the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires) with García Vigil on the podium and Marga Niec of the Teatro Municipal de Santiago (Chile) directing.

From top left: the lobby, the foyer, the auditorium ceiling and the exterior of the renovated Teatro Solís in Montevideo, Uruguay.
photo by Teatro Solís





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