In April 2008, the Ministry of Culture announced that one of the great concert halls of the Americas, the Teatro Colón in the center of Bogota’s colonial district would close its doors until further notice.
The original renovation scheduled predicted two years in which the chairs, balconies and lobby would undergo an important upgrade,as visitors to this centenary building increasingly grew weary of the rickety seating, dim lighting and the fact that when performances ended one had to hail a cab in the often unsafe corners of La Candelaria.
At the cultural epicenter of this country and home to the National Symphony or Orquesta Sinfónica de Colombia,the Colón Theatre was built in a 19th century neoclassical style, emblematic of the great opera houses of Europe, such as La Scala in Milan and the Staatsoper of Vienna.
Inaugurated in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, the Colón theater planned to open its doors in 2010 after the Ministerio de Cultura (Ministry of Culture) invested an original US$50 million to upgrade the opulent hall both structurally and acoustically. A new electrical grid had to be installed and the building accommodated for disabled access. The theatre by law also needed to be seismically revamped.
State-of-the-art sound and light technology was donated by the government of Japan and the Italian government sponsored the work of one of its most eminent restorers, Ruggero Martines, of Puglia, who oversaw the modernization process of this important concert hall.
The renovation process extended several more years and no detail was overlooked. Just weeks before the official inauguration on July 23rd, antiquities experts are polishing and fining-tuning the pianos in a graceful reception hall on the second floor.
For the gala event of the Colón, Fernando Montaño of the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, will grace the stage with representative works from Manon, Rhapsody and The spectre of the Rose. Montaño will perform on the nights of the 25, 26 and 27th of July. Born in Buenaventura, Montaño is considered “Colombia’s Billy Elliot’” by international audiences.
For the Colón’s director, Manuel José Alvaréz the renovation process gives back to the capital (and to Colombia) a revered space and one, which will welcome all creative disciplines, from the classical to the contemporary. “The Colón will become a theatre of productions, and not just a rented space,” states Alvaréz. “For this we need a very inclusive, diverse and plural programme. We want to attract young people and children.”
In order to position the Colón as Colombia’s premier concert and performing space, the directives have created tailor-made agendas which include a Children’s schedule on Sundays and a Traditional Music one on Mondays. The Colón also aims to showcase those masters of regional music who haven’t necessarily received the recognition they deserve. The Orquesta Sinfónica de Colombia will have its seat at the theatre, although it will continue to perform in other venues across the city, and country.
Already on the cultural agenda for this year are presentations by Il Giardino Armonico, a pioneering Italian early music ensemble founded in Milan in 1985 by Luca Pianca and Giovanni Antonini, the Romeros of the Royal Guitar, and a first ever performance in Colombia by the Ballet of Monte Carlo, as well as the Urban Circus ensemble of Brisbane, Australia.
Colombian theatre companies will also take to the stage in the Colón and hip hop DJs such as Wax Tailor will be able to delight fans in this intimate Baroque setting. “The Colón will be continue to be a 19th century venue, but with a 21th century framework,” states the director.
In order to accommodate circus troupes, performers of the zarzuela, the stage was enlarged and rebuilt from scratch. And theatregoers will notice these important changes when moving between the 19th century hall into the sound, lighting and dressing room areas.
“This marks a new life for the Colón” states Alvaréz, an accomplished actor, documentary filmmaker and former director of the IberoAmerican Theatre Festival. “It’s important that those who already know the Colón, come and rediscover it.”
The Colón aims to become a theatre workshop, helping to form future set designers, costume makers and stage lighting professionals. On the grounds of the Estación de la Sabana train station, the Colón has erected a tent which will house an “alternative space” for performance and productions by the Cali-based circus school and foundation Escuela Nacional Circo Para Todos.
As the curtain rises on the Colón this month, Bogotanos get back not only a renovated landmark but one with a revamped cultural agenda. In the long history of this theatre, the future sounds both crisp and bright. And when the time comes to schedule your night out in La Candelaria – don’t fret – as a special taxi service has been set up by the Colón to pick you up at your home and get you back safely.