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Architectural Styles


The fourteen Brazilian theatres chosen for the purposes of this book can be arranged in four groups, in accordance with their basic architectural characteristics.
Group 1. Here we find theatres of essentially luso-brazilian inspiration. Originally known as casas da opera, opera houses, they followed the internal arrangement of Italian baroque theatres. Small, with several tiers of boxes, they reflect the spirit of a rigidly hierarchical society, requiring separation by class even in the theatre. Spectators of higher rank would occupy the best seats. Women, when they went at all, would keep to the boxes, while the stalls, shorn of all comfort, were reserved for the men. The actors, blacks or half-castes, came from the lower social orders, while women only took the stage towards the end of the 18th century. There was little concern, in these small theatres, with visibility or acoustics. The orchestra was at the same level as the stalls, and musicians and instruments would obstruct visibility for spectators at ground level. Seen from outside, such theatres are just ordinary buildings, connected to their neighbours on each side and undistinguished in the urban landscape.
Group 2. This brings together neoclassical theatres, of classical French or Italian or neoclassical French inspiration. In Europe, this type corresponds to the economic and cultural rise of the bourgeoisie. There, as in Brazil, the theatres are larger than those in the previous group, and also more comfortable. Inside there is a concern for luxury, above all in the decoration. Theatrical symbology, based on Graeco-Roman mythology , is abundant. Externally they are free-standing, and their architecture is intended to give emphasis and make them stand out from the surrounding urban environment. In the final years of the Brazilian Empire, women at last took up their place in the stalls.
Group 3. Here are found theatres in the overall style of the Ópera, in Paris. Eclectic in design and built in the early years of the 20th century, these buildings represent the triumph of the secular world, and of the hierarchies within
 
bourgeois society. Overflowing with luxury, they transmit the feeling of ostentation and power. The exterior emphasizes their position in the urban environment; there is an excessive load of ornament, and the three spaces corresponding to the principal parts of the theatre: entrance and foyer, hall and stage. The interior is more highly developed, more sumptuous than the preceding group. The hall is horseshoe-shaped and surmounted by a depressed vault. Problems of visibility and acoustics are now addressed. The stage occupies a larger space, and is equipped with accessory areas. Metal structures are used for the flies, so as to avoid the once-common fires. The orchestra is often relegated to a pit, to keep it out of the public view. The use of electricity makes it possible to darken the hall during the performance which, in this type of theatre, is an eminently worldly encounter; thus the bustle of a festive and elegant public in an opulent and colourful environment is even more enticing than the play being performed.
Group 4. There are the "Garden-theatres", to use an expression from the catalogue of MacFarlane, the Scottish Company which designed and built the metal structure of the José de Alencar Theatre. Constructed at the beginning of the century, these are eclectic in their architectural character. What calls one's attention is the use of internal courtyards with verandahs, specially thought up for the inside ventilation of buildings in regions where high temperatures prevail.

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Theatres in the Historical Center of Rio