• July holiday in Uruguay .”The Theatre of the Sun”

    Posted on junio 27, 2015 by in Uruguay



    The Building: it’s history and the present time.
    “The Progress Theatre”, “The Theatre of the Company”, “The Theatre of the Sun”, “The Solis’ Theatre Company” and “Teatro Solís” are some of the names that were put to the vote of entrepreneurs in order to designate the “Colosseum” that was being built, and that was associated from its very beginning with a process of citizenship-building.

    Although the name that honoured the navigator Juan Díaz de Solís was the one that prevailed, it could have been any other name on the list, because Teatro Solís is primarily the consolidation of an idea.

    A possible way to go through the history of Teatro Solis might be the fact of taking into account the story of the building projects within the urban fabric of that time; one other way might be to decrypt the visible criteria in the selection of the programming, the analysis of the shows performed by hundreds of national and foreign artists who have appeared on Teatro Solís’ stage; another approach might be done from the dramatic criticism, from the legitimization of the articles in the press, from the public, from the memories of the artists, from the advertising posters; or from the analysis of the commercial brands supported by the political power that enabled or hindered the actions to be taken; or it could also be seen as the management projects and their results. This history is still in development, because it is also the history of the institutions within the theatre, as today are the so-called “stable artistic casts” -The National Comedy and the Montevideo Philarmonic Orchestra-, and the history of the institutions that performed on this stage, such as the Cultural Centre of Music, the Pro Opera Cultural Association and also the long list of international theatre companies that made a stopover in our country.

    Stories of outer walls, inner walls, plans, projects, shows, artists, men and women. A real work of archaeology: the building’s construction and its reformulations are a palimpsest written by way of reinterpreting the building’s meanings and uses since the 19th century.

    From the document to the monument: the various uses of the theatre

    Teatro Solís is a document, a heritage and a monument. But the document does not exist by itself but rather in relation to the other sources. Its use is what makes of Teatro Solís a monument. There is then no objective document, since every document/monument is the product of an assembly (consciously or not), of a time and of the historical production conditions; “there is no absolute truth-document” [*2].

    Arch. Mariano Arana asserts that heritage – “is not a mere archaeological layer belonging to a more or less distant past, whose remains are to be kept for curiosity and contemplation of the present generations. On the contrary, heritage is an active and disturbing presence, with obvious signs of contemporariness, which calls for us today with the accumulated wisdom of history” [*3].

    For this reason, in any of the possible paths to walk through for this historical construction, the document/monument Teatro Solís is to be read in terms of the diversity of its uses (from opera galas to Carnival balls; from college degrees award ceremonies to personalities wakes); the diversity of its audiences (from the political elite and great landowners to the general public); the diversity of management (from a corporation to a public heritage); the patterns of use (from leasing to artistic productions); and its interaction with the environment and with the changements in town planning.

    In this way, whether the theatre’s management is considered as a “success” or a “failure”, it is anyway in direct relation to the objectives set by each administration, to the quality of the shows, to the high or low public profile, to the forms of promotion, and most importantly, to the degree of impact on the society and the territory. Because territory is a resource with economic, environmental and cultural value for sectoral development projects.

    The application of urban development policies reorders the urban space and builds the image and meaning of the same. Montevideo lived a debate from its very foundation; the construction style of the city followed the benchmarks of Western Europe, in opposition to the patterns of Latin American integration, in a process of spatial reorganization and public works that became part of the construction of “the extended city”.

    Teatro Solís responds in its construction and in its reforms to that pattern, and in this way it positions itself as a privileged stage to see the social representation. It almost can be seen as a laboratory where different representations of the world coexist together with different social classes, causing both processes of approval of customs as well as processes of hybridization.

    Teatro Solís also is a place where opportunities for the dissemination of the Arts are generated. As a main Culture Centre, it was a diffuser of representations and practices that were consumed in different ways by the public (through appropriation and resignification of the show they had enjoyed). In a long-lasting line, Teatro Solís was and is a cultural manifestation where society represents itself in its walls, in their appraisals, in their applause, and in their representations that from the old town extended to the entire society.

    From 19th century to the 21st

    120 years ago, the Argentine Miguel Cané said about Teatro Solis: “South America does not possess a single theatre that may arise as its rival and many large European cities would like to have it and show it to their tourists as a work worthy of examination”.

    What today constitutes the historical heritage of all citizens, is the result of concerns as remote as the very creation of the State in 1830. Through the first decades of its independent life Uruguay was immersed in a civil war that spread from 1838 to 1851, which shows a State, by the way, weak, where the actors in the public sphere were not only related to the private sphere, but they were part of it too.

    This is to say that men who met political functions in the new State, were also those who participated in civil institutions (journals, scientific and cultural societies), and business ventures (agro and trade fundamentally).

    This feature is also the lens through which it is necessary to read the initiative of the group of businessmen that drove to the creation of Teatro Solís in 1840; this is to be understood as the growing need of a social class to play a social and political leading role, as well as the manifest intention of providing the city with a “worthy Coliseum” to enjoy the arts, a place also to “see” and “to be seen” in a context of increased socialization.

    Then, despite a situation at first sight “unfavorable” for the creation of a space for the enjoyment of the arts in a country at war, a group of prominent citizens decided to create a society to promote the project of a theatre of great proportions.

    In 1840, when a partnership with 156 shareholders was created with the aim of building a theatre, Montevideo had some 40,000 inhabitants and had only one theatre hall, the old House of Comedies. This Committee, composed of leading personalities in society, began with the task of choosing the field following the suggestion of locations proposed by the Italian architect Carlo Zucchi, which in turn made the first project for its construction in 1840.

    But this landmark, this worthy example of Republican neoclassicism, was also the result of a complex network of actors where the best traditions of each one of its protagonists contributed to the whole project. It was in this way that the original draft of Carlo Zucchi was adapted to the economic and financial needs of a country at war by the architect Francisco Javier De Garmendia.

    In 1842 the works were begun, which then had to be interrupted in 1843 when the site of Montevideo began on the part of the army leaded by Gral. Manuel Oribe. Until that time the foundations had been done and the walls rose only 2.8 feet above the ground level. The Board of Directors managed to keep safe, during all the conflict, a series of construction materials coming from Europe, such as Siberian wood for the structure, columns, capitals of Italian marble and slate tiles for the roof.

    The official opening of Teatro Solís (a name that pays homage to the Navigator that discovered Río de la Plata) was on August 25, 1856, in the presence of President Gabriel Antonio Pereira, with a performance of Verdi’s opera “Ernani”. However, the theatre was not yet finished, i. e. the lateral bodies were still in construction, which caused a marked contrast between the sides of the building’s volume and its monumental façade.

    The lateral bodies were built between 1869 and 1874, according to the draft prepared by the French architect Victor Rabu, following a programme in order to obtain economic benefits from the local housing and shops, which by far were not in relation to the theatrical activity from the building’s main area.

    During the following years the theatre underwent several supplementary reforms. Its wooden ceiling was changed in 1881 to another one of metal structure coming from France, and in 1882 the stage was widened. Both interventions were carried out under the direction of the engineer Juan Alberto Capurro. Between 1905 and 1910 there were a series of renovations in the decoration and maintenance works on the basis of proposals of different technicians, which meant the highlighting of the plafond of the main hall and the scenic bow paintings, that were done by the painters Carlos Mª. Herrera and Pío Collivadino in 1908.

    On January 26, 1937 the theatre’s regulations were changed as a consequence of the purchase of the same by the Municipal Administration of Montevideo, which in the subsequent years introduced a series of improvements and facilities that increased the theatre’s security, especially in 1943 under the leadership of the municipal architects Altamirano and Cohe.

    The activities of the main hall were reopened in 1946, after several years in which the theatre had remained closed, but allowing certain activities, such as the major exhibition of the works of Juan Manuel Blanes in 1940. In 1965 a renovation of the theatre’s equipment was made, changing the old seats of the stalls, among other further changes.

    The main façade of Teatro Solis would seem inspired by the theatre Carlo Felice of Genoa, moreover, the theatre’s hall has a slightly elliptical form, which seems inspired by the one that the Italian architect Piermarini designed for the theatre Alla Scala in Milan, although the main hall of Teatro Solis keeps a remarkable similarity with another Italian theatre hall, the one of the Metastasio theatre, in Prato, near Florence.

    Since then, the theatre hall multiple programming included the lyrical genre and also the theatre of prose, with the presence of world renowned celebrities, from the sopranos Luisa Tetrazzini (in 1875) or Adelina Patti (in 1888) until the tenor Francesco Tamagno (in 1896) and Enrico Caruso (in 1903). Players of first line who acted in Teatro Solís include Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, María Guerrero, Lola Membrives, Margarita Xirgú, María Casares, Diana Torrieri, Vivien Leigh, Madeleine Renaud, Anna Proclemer, Ermette Zacconi, Ruggero Ruggieri, Louis Jouvet, Jean Vilar, Giorgio Albertazzi, Pierre Brasseur, Ralph Richardson.

    The creation in 1947 of a stable artistic cast, The National Comedy -which made its debut with “The Blind Lyon”, a play by Ernesto Herrera-, made of Teatro Solís the main headquarters of this official artistic cast, although at the same time the theatre housed symphonic, lyric and dramatic shows of foreign and national companies.

    When it comes to music, in Teatro Solís played artists like Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Wanda Landowska, Robert Cassadessus, Jascha Heifetz, Andrés Segovia, Rudolf Firkusny, Friedrich Gulda or María Tipo, and the dancers who passed through its stage included from Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Vaslaw Nijinski, Antonia Mercé or Pastora Imperio, until Alicia Markova, Natalia Bessmertnova, or Vladimir Vassiliev. Up to its closure in October 1998, the theatre hosted regular seasons of the National Comedy and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Montevideo (former Municipal Symphony Orchestra).

    The model and its challenges

    Montevideo has changed very much since 1840, when a group of citizens coming out of a theatre performance had the idea of building a “worthy Coliseum” for the city, until it was finally inaugurated in 1856, after the vicissitudes of the Great War [*4]. Urban development expanded the city, modified its spaces, its trees, their concentrations and their uses.

    During the last few decades Montevideo has undergone a process of increasing social fragmentation, polarizing the concentration of services that are also clearly expressed in the fragmentation of the centers dedicated to the performing arts, leisure and consumption. We can distinguish therefore heterogeneous forms of “being” and “living” in Montevideo [*5].

    In the consolidation of this sectoral project, the old city changed from being the main meeting place, to a peripheral status. Assuming the transformations of the territory, imply rethinking the challenges that these may cause.

    This means that the changes in the appearence of the city organize, interpret and explain the city itself from a complex vision of class, gender and ethnic group, and they also give a guideline of the use of time – work and leisure – which in turn in an interactive way introduce themselves further changes.

    In this struggle to consolidate new urban development models, the combination of public and private efforts affects the development direction. So the old town, once more, undergoes a change in the ways of use (this is noticeable through the capital investment in new buildings, also through the public debates, and through the laws favourable to this development). Today, the old town is undergoing a process of change, which is largely a consequece of the actions for the safeguarding of the historical, cultural and natural heritage, that various organizations formed in this regard have been carrying forward, which tend to reverse the former situation of neglection by means of policies that promote respect and the recovery of this city area, while at the same time they cause a change of mind in the citizens [*6].

    The assessment of the cultural production and the cultural consumption in this city area constitutes a historical opportunity which sets Teatro Solís in a position of leadership among the synergies generated by a circuit of cafes, restaurants, pubs, museums, libraries, cinemas and theatres, with a necessary reinforcement of the link between the public and private activity. Because the will expressed since the end of 1998, has been the realization of a project that refers to the landscapes of memory as well as to a project for the future, which integrates itself in the cultural heritage of all Uruguayans: the new Teatro Solís.


    [1] Teatro Solís: a place of dreams: This presentation is part of a research based on the book “Teatro Solis. Stories and documents. “, by Lic. Daniela Bouret. I.M.M., Book Distributor Gussi, 2004.

    [2] LE GOFF, Jacques. The order of memory. Time as an imaginary being. Printing house: Piadós, Spain, 1991, p. 238.

    [3] ARANA, Mariano. The Theatre of the city and the city as a Community Theatre: a City for a Theatre, a Theater for a City.

    [4] At the end of the Great War, between 1852 and 1915 there was a dramatic expansion of the urban area, whose population was multiplied by more than ten (approximately from 34,000 to 350,000 inhabitants). The urban structure of Montevideo was composed of a central core formed by the old town and the new town, to which were added some spontaneous settlements in the areas of the Cordón and the Aguada, and some outlying towns. In: ALVAREZ LENZI, Ricardo – ARANA, Mariano, BOCCHIARDO, Livia. The Expansion of Montevideo (1868-1915), Banda Oriental printing house, Montevideo, 1986, pages 15-16.

    [5] According to the last census of Montevideo carried out in 1996, the city has 1.344.800 inhabitants. Even though this figure must have suffered alterations by increasing emigration, it means an increase of almost 40 times the population of 1952.

    [6] Among these are to be reckoned the Permanent Special Commission for the Old Town, the Montevideo Plan, the Organization for the Promotion of the Down-town Area, the Special Plan for the Old Town and the18 de Julio Avenue Areas, and the Land Use Management Plan (POT – Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial).



    Theatre Lobby, Hall and Stage

    Changes were made as a result of the restoration and reform in the lobby of the theatre, in the hall and on the stage.

    Teatro Solís Lobby and the theatre environment

    The approximation of the viewer to the theatre, is performed through a sequence of urban spaces characteristics that have already been positively changed. The urban recovery of the city area bounded by the streets Sarandi, Bacacay and Bartolomé Mitre has boosted it from the cultural and commercial points of view. This urban pole of special features was completed and re-boosted by the new Teatro Solís.

    The main esplanade together with the façade on Buenos Aires Street have been recovered and all of the public enters through this main entrance, which means a fundamental change which helps for the real democratization of the theatre.

    The elimination of architectural barriers for the disabled is one of the elements of central concern in this new stage.
    Ramps with the appropriate slope and location, lifts that give access to the different levels of the theatre hall, etc.

    The spatial characteristics of the historic lobby, which integrates this space with two side stairs have been improved.
    The Foyer, on the other hand, is the space needed by the public during an interval of the show, or in the way it was traditionally used, i. e. for cultural activities not strictly of theatrical nature. It is, then, a closed space linked to the Hall, but with possibilities to operate independently of it.

    This space -which contains one of the two crystal chandeliers of great heritage value, that by their form ressemble the sun- has been restored faithfully, thus recovering all the architectural details of the same, but incorporating contemporary elements of comfort and security.
    The Hall

    The main Hall hasn’t varied, in all regarding its operation, with the historic Hall of Teatro Solis.

    The structure of the hall maintains therefore the typical features of an opera house, with stalls and 5 rings that identify it: Stage boxes, Grand Circle, Loge, Gallery and Gods. Viewers have access to the same through the lobby along the corridors at each one of the levels. For acoustic improvements and performance reasons it became necessary to have corridors at all levels of the theatre.

    The intervention made in the main hall means a restoration of the 100% of the assets and liablilities and an important readjustment in the parameters related to the acoustics of the same.

    The Stage

    The stage is the central space of the theatre. The impact of the theatre’s transformation was apparently hidden to the public; however those who perform on stage have been the main target of the important innovations.

    Ths is the space that has been most radically transformed during the renovation works. Indeed, the new stage box allows the positioning of Teatro Solís in the 21st century, thus overcoming years of stagnation.

    A new stage of 748 m2 was build, thus increasing by 80% the original area of the theatre. Along with an increasing in height, the construction of new technical grills, of a lower stage which can be completely dismantled and the incorporation of modern stage machinery are the greatest transformations of the theatre since its founding.

    Systems of air conditioning, fire detection systems, fire extinguishing systems of last generation, and fire resistant curtains are some among the major innovations which were also added to the stage.

    The dimensions of the stage were changed substantially, especially in what has to do with the areas that are outside the actual stage but without which a modern theatre may not function. Indeed, while the scene opening was not changed, the stage height was increased by 20% and the total volume of the stage box became the double of the original one. The stage width was increased by 40% and the length by 25%, enlarging the total stage area by 80%.

    The volume of the areas of support and services (technical catwalks, racks, under scenario, machinery spaces, tanks) were approximately multiplied by 3.
    A new 13 x 4 metre orchestra pit was built. While originally there was an orchestra pit, the modifications done in 1966 removed it practically disabling it.

    This new orchestra pit is mounted on a mobile platform that will enable different configurations.

    The project has incorporated a stage machinery that includes 41 motorized devices, a new fire resistant backdrop, hoists and lifts of scene, removable floors, direct accesses from the outside to introduce stage sets of important dimensions.

    The lighting and audio system are other aspects that were substantially changed with respect to their previous situation. Also the renewal of absolutely all the backdrops and the incorporation of new scenes and accessories has been done.



    The Building restoration
    In November 1998, after having suffered a fire break-out in a clothes warehouse within the theatre, the Municipality of Montevideo decides to close it due to the high risk for the theatre’s survival, since its facilities were not in good condition.

    A team of professionals and technicians was set up, being in charge of the project for the recovery of the Theatre, directed by the architects Alvaro Farina and Carlos Pascual. Both professionals were responsible for the construction project of the theatre’s new Central Body. The works were begun with the assistance of European specialists in the fields of restoration, acoustics, stage mechanics, theatre structure and management, who began with a process of integral survey through a historical research on the building, together with searches and trials in order to know the actual state of the building by detecting the areas of high risk and those which were on the brink of collapse.

    The main lines of intervention are the following:

    A) Reprocessing of the Stage Area

    The stage of Teatro Solís had turned almost obsolete for the presentation of shows of great importance and artistic quality which at other times (end of the 19th century and much of the 20th) characterized Teatro Solís as one of the main theatres of the world.

    Among the detected shortcomings the following are to be mentioned: the stage lifting machinery system was manual, in the same way that was done at the beginning of the 20th century, through pulleys driven manually. There was no security system nor an adequate fire protection. There were no adequate dressing rooms to meet the needs of the artists. The original structure of the stage floor as well as the technical grid were built entirely in wood and so they remained since the very beginning, representing now a high risk of fire, considering that these materials are highly flammable. The useful height of the grill was insufficient in relation to the height of the stage opening, this prevented the fully upraisal of scenery and decorations, therefore restricting the full utilization of the height of the proscenium arch. The theatre’s stage wings (lateral sectors) were inadequate in their dimensions which hindered the movement of scenery.

    For these reasons, it was necessary to redo the stage to meet the needs of modern shows, so the old theatre stage was completely demolished and a new one was built, which is 80% larger in surface and 100% higher in its volume, i.e. larger in all its senses (side, height and depth), fully mechanized with equipment of last generation, replacing the manual systems. Behind the stage, other rooms (such as dressing rooms, locker rooms, offices, depot and maintenance shops) were built in accordance with the new requirements of the theatre.

    An orchestra pit was also built with capacity for 60 musicians. (The former moat had been eliminated in 1966) The new moat has a mechanical platform that adopts different positions depending on the type of show for the public (1st, the pit level for the Orchestra; 2nd, the stalls level to extend the same by adding three rows of seats; and 3rd, the stage level for achieving the extension of the proscenium).

    B) Functional restructuring
    Teatro Solís appears for the first time in the documented history on June 25, 1840, with the formation of a shareholders company ruled by a Board of Directors. The Group proposed to build a theatre, which was important for Montevideo at that time, and to rent it for the benefit of its members. They also wanted to build a number of different premises at both sides: shops, houses for rent, rooms… They were supposed to be for rent, i.e. to earn an income. The two lateral constructions were the place of the different premises for rental, for trade and other activities.

    A historical analysis has allowed to know the original activities of the theatre and of each of these secondary premises. This analysis puts in evidence the independence of the theatre from these side wings, as well as the complete independence of the premises, which had several entrance doors onto the street.

    The most important functional characteristic of the building in this period was that these different activities, which were carried out simultanously in the same block had no links between them. The building responded correctly to the functional needs of the program. It had been thought and resolved in a structure that, once built, worked for the purposes that had been proposed: a theatre in the centre and various warehouses that surrounded it. The block was a large container of premises with independent functions, agglutinated by a central façade which was the one of the theatre.
    The second period (1937-1999) begins with the purchase of the building by the Municipal Administration of Montevideo. This is a period of very important changes of functional nature, as well as in the management and use of the building, which are, without any doubt, those that affected the physical structure of the theatre. Before the building’s closure that was done with the aim of carrying out the programmed reform, all activities linked to the municipal theatre had invaded the lateral wings. That functional difference, which was very strong during the private company administration, began to fade during the municipal period.

    At the closure date, the functions of the theatre by that time could be classified into two groups. On the one hand were those functions that correspond to the proper use of the theatre itself, i. e. the National Comedy, the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Municipal School of Dramatic Arts and the theater administration. On the other hand were those more closely linked to other activities, such as shops and deposits of objects, that were invading the building. The above mentioned began to be installed in premises which were meant for other functions. An evident case is the one of the Philharmonic Orchestra, housed in what had formerly been a dwelling. The original functional structure remained, but it turned out to be incompatible with the functional structure of the new activities that were carried out in the building. This generated a situation of permanent conflict, due to which there were openings, disconnections, passages, lack of control with respect to the staff and to everything coming in and going out of the theatre. It was a situation of functional chaos, which meant that the clear structure that once had responded to the needs of a time was then subverted. The physical structure was the same, but with other new functions; as a result, a crisis followed.

    Considering the definition of the theatre’s functions, the proposal for the third period of the building consists in defining the theatre from its functional aspect so that this be reflected in the theatre’s physical structure. The proposal involves the closure of the entrance dorways for the public at Juncal and Bartolomé Mitre streets. With this aim, two large staircases at either side of the main lobby were built, thus becoming the only entrance for the public to access all the seating levels of the theatre. Now the building has only two large doorways: one for the public and the other for the technical staff, which makes a distinction between those who work in the theatre and those who go to the theatre. The rear entrance, on the street Reconquista, is meant to be for the technicians and the artists, while the main entrance across the theatre’s forecourt is for the audience. This enables a better control and management of the theatre. An underground level throughout the whole theatre area was built in order to increase the capacity of the building. This underground level was designed for the Exhibition Hall, the Shop, the Cloakroom, the restrooms in the lobby sector, the air conditioning equipment room in the area under the stalls and the maintenance shops and deposits which are located below the stage.

    C) Acoustics Recovery

    Part of the culture of the Uruguayan people is the myth that the Solis theatre had excellent acoustics due in part to an underground course of water flowing under the main hall. Although it is correct that the acoustics of the theatre were positively valued, it ascribes no merit to the so-called underground river.

    For better understanding of the acoustic quality of a theatre hall it is necessary to handle some basic technical concepts. The claim: the hall sounds good can mean many things. For example, when perceiving a spoken word, we want to identify each syllable as well, in order to understand the speaker. On the other hand if you are listening to a Symphony Orchestra we assess the sense of spatiality that we experience when we are inside a theatre hall, while the fact of perceiving a sound outdoors is a quite different experience.

    The parameter that best sums up the acoustic quality of a theatre hall is called reverberation time, which establishes how long a sound remains in a room from the moment in which occurs the cessation of issuance, i.e. when the source radiates no more sound in the room.

    Teatro Solís is a 2-purpose theatre hall with variable acoustics. When a play is performed in the hall, the curtains between the boxes and their anterooms will be closed, while during the performance of the Symphony those curtains will be drawn, thus removing the absorption of the hall sound and adding the anterooms resonance.

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