Centuries before any of the venues hosting the I Festival Internacional de Musica de Bogota (First International Music Festival of Bogota) were even conceived, the music of Beethoven may very well have been performed in the Jewel of South America – El Teatro Cristobal Colon, the oldest standing opera house in the hemisphere, pre-dating the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires by 16 years.
Designed by architect Pietro Cantini in true Baroque style, the Colon sits on a site destined to hold majestic theatres, having first been home to the Coliseo Ramirez (erected in 1793), and then the Teatro Maldonado (opened in 1871). When the Colon was officially inaugurated in 1892 with a sterling production of Verdi’s Ernani, Bogota’s high society entered an Italian-style masterpiece. The design is made more significant given the challenge that Cantini was faced with: scaling down a typical proscenium theatre to fit the space. His achievement was astounding and the Colon stands today as not only an invaluable part of Colombian patrimony, but as an international architectural treasure as well.
With the passing centuries, the Colon has come to be known primarily for staging zarzuelas and opera, with occasional plays gracing the house.
The grand theatre has been closed for four years for a massive restoration. Chosen to oversee this monumental event by the Minister of Culture Mariana Garces is Director Sylvia Ospina, who was formally the Director of the Metropolitan in Medellin and the Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in Bogota. The passion and enthusiasm that Ospina brings to the project is evident in her mannerisms as she assesses the impressive work that has already been completed.
The furniture in the boxes has been given new upholstery, the ornate ornamentation throughout the theatre and in the sitting room has been cleaned and re-sculpted and the intricate molding has been given new life. But, perhaps most impressive of all, is the meticulous restoration of the ceiling mural. Even though it is obscured by a protective screen, the small details that can be seen are vibrant and thrilling. Work is currently being done on a tapestry, an allegorical depiction of some of opera’s greatest characters that hangs above the stage, before the grand curtain.
Ospina explained that not only is the theatre being renovated, additional properties have also been acquired with plans on creating a performing arts complex. “We will maintain a high level of professional programming,” explains Ospina. Directors will be required to submit proposals for consideration, and once approved, all of the production work such as costume design and set conception, will be done within the Colon. When it is re-inaugurated with a gala celebration, projected for some time in 2014, the Colon will once again come alive with performances of opera, orchestras, plays and dance. And Bogota’s musical legacy will play on well into the future.
Authors Toby de Lys and Tigre Haller are owners of Bogota Brilliance, a website focused on Bogota’s tourism, business, nightlife and culture.