Teatro Amazonas

Teatro Amazonas
The greatest threat to this grand 1896 opera house in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon came in the form an animal - the lowly termite. Termites had dined on the theater's 660-some seats, chewed into wooden pillars depicting dramatists from Aristotle to Goethe, and defaced muses on the ceiling mural. The three-year $8 million restoration begun in 1987 required replacing termite-eaten hardwoods and used more than 3,900 gallons of insecticide, some of which workers fumed into the theater's century-old walls.

The rubber barons who built this beautiful belle epoque structure along the Amazon River in Manaus spared no expense in acquiring the finest materials from abroad. They imported French ironwork for balconies and stairways, Italian marble for pedestals, and Alsatian tiles for the great neoclassical dome. But decades of abuse, which included an American military use of the theater as a storage depot for gasoline during World War II, had left the theater a pale shadow of its former self by the mid-1980s, when officials closed it for the restorations.

Officials in charge of the renovation found that both the infrastructure and its many ornate fixtures needed a lot of help. Workers repaired wood- and stonework, reupholstered chairs, replaced missing crystals from chandeliers, fixed broken tiles, derusted ironwork, and repainted the great dome in rose with a trim of cream. When the Opera House finally reopened its doors in March 1990, a visitor might almost have imagined that he or she was walking into opening night, New Year's Eve, 1896, when the Lyric Company of Italy performed a selection of arias.

Principal sources: "Opera Returns to the Amazon, The Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1990, and "In the Kingdom of the Amazons," The Sunday Telegraph (London), March 25, 1990

Photo: Peter Tyson

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