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The Municipal Theatre, São Paulo
Ecletic Style
(1903 - 1911) São Paulo, SP


t all began with a promise. Anyone who would undertake to build a theatre for São Paulo would be exempted from taxes for three years.
Councillor Carlos Garcia's idea became a project in the Municipal Chamber in May 1895. No one was interested. A year later, yet another promise. This time, the project, by Councillors Gomes Cardim and José Roberto, extended exemption to 23 years. No one was interested. The third promise, in 1898, increased the time to 50 years.

But there were people who agreed with the councilors. São Paulo needed a theatre in the image and likeness of the city. The São José Theatre, in the square which is now the Praça João Mendes and the only one with a modicum of comfort, had burnt down two years earlier. The others - Politeama, Minerva, Ginásio Paulistano and Teatro Provisório Paulistano - were used simply because they existed.

Contractors Felipe Santoro, Felício dos Santos, and the Count Souza Dantas were among the first to believe in the 50 years of tax relief. The Theatre was to be in the Praça da República, facing the Normal School, now the State Secretariat for Education.

Their credibility did not last; then came José Mariano Correia Camargo Aranha and Artur M. Cortines Laxe. This Theatre was to have been between the Rua Timbiras, the Rua Ipiranga and the Rua São João, if they had managed to raise the capital.

Giacomo Leone's Theatre, another dream of 50 years of tax exemption, was to have been between the Rua Formosa, the Rua São João and the Rua Barão de Itapetininga, if he had not died shortly afterwards in Europe, where he had gone after the money.

In 1900, São Paulo's 85,000 inhabitants, still lacking a theatre in the image and likeness of their cultivated and prosperous city, saw the discussions and projects regarding construction moved from the Municipal Chamber of the Senate.

A project by Senator Frederico Abranches proposed no tax exemption, but rather participation by society, through private enterprise, in public works. If the law resulting from this project had not been dropped for lack of funds, a theatre might have been built at one of the city's famous street corners.
But the persistent councilor Gomes Cardim proposed a joint venture by city and State. What if the State ceded the land disappropriated a year earlier, between the Rua Conselheiro Crispiniano, the Rua Barão de Itapetininga and the Rua Formosa? The State agreed. In April 1903, credit amounting to 2.3 million contos de réis, authorized by law, announced to the citizens of São Paulo that dream threatened to become reality.

The land in question was on the hill called the Morro do Chá; the square, the Praça Ramos de Azevedo, still didn't exist, the nearby bridge, the Viaduto do Chá was 11 years old, the Anhangabaú Valley, broad and fertile, was full of vegetables and fruits.

Work began on June 5th 1903. The city's tallest building, with a ground area of 3,600 m2, was ready 8 years and 3 months later; it took 5 tonnes of cast iron, 700 tonnes of plates and girders, 4.5 million bricks, Bohemian glass, Venetian mosaics, German furniture and Milanese carpets. And the cost? Twice the original estimate: 4.5 million contos de réis.

An Inauguration Committee nominated by Mayor Raimundo Duprat and consisting of Ramos de Azevedo, Numa de Oliveira, Alfredo Pujol and Manoel Pedro Villaboim, took charge of the first night.
São Paulo's Municipal Theatre, finished on June 30th 1911, was to opened in the following month.

However, the coffee harvest, which went on from May until August, made it impossible for the families of the coffee producers to attend. Thus the inauguration was put off until September 11th , when the most famous baritone of the time, Titta Ruffo, sang the part of Hamlet in Ambroise Thoma's opera of that name.

The scenery did not arrive in time, and occasion was postponed until the 12th.
The 1,816 seats seemed few for the gentlemen in their frock coats and the ladies with gloves, fans and hats. All were enchanted with the magnificence of the Theatre, at last in the image and likeness of the city, cultivated and prosperous. Outside, such was the activity that cavalry and infantrymen in gala uniform had to call on a group of cyclists from the Civic Guard, to control the order of vehicles on the way out. The vehicles were only called in the early hours of the 13th, although the spectacle had not in fact finished. There were so many speeches and acts of homage that the last act ended at 12:45 a.m. And Thomas' "Hamlet" has an epilogue...

Tired but happy, the spectators went home to comment on what had been done, what had happened, what they had seen and what they had imagined, invention and dream. And so, on the first night, "Hamlet" had no epilogue.

The programme was shaped like a fan, and full of advertisements: chemists, barbers, glovemakers, grocers, cigarettes, sweets, toques, brandy, beer, remedies for dandruff and sweating.
Soon afterwards, and for many years, the Municipal Theatre was the symbol of São Paulo. On performance days special trams, upholstered in white, served to carry the refined spectators and to protect their impeccably tailored and starched clothes. The month of August with its opera season was carefully programmed.


So it was that São Paulo's opera-goers were able to hear in 1914, only ten months after its opening night at La Scala, Pietro Mascagni's "Paristina".


Bidu Sayão, Tito Schippa, Enrico Caruso, Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas are among the names who have performed in works by Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, Bizet, Massenet, and Carlos Gomes.
Dance spectacles have included the American Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet, the Bolshoi, the Berioska, the Stagium, the Champs-Elysées Ballet, with costumes by Jean Cocteau, Christian Dior, and Picasso.
Drama and Comedy have seen the presence on stage of Cacilda Becker, Paulo Autran, Tônia Carrero, Marcel Marceau, Jean-Louis Barrault, and very many more.


In 1922, from February 11th to 18th , São Paulo's 400,000 inhabitants became acquainted with a cultural revolution which trod the boards of the Municipal Theatre.


Modern Art Week, or the Week of 22, brought together Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade, Menotti del Picchia, Anita Malfatti, Tarsila do Amaral, Villa-Lobos, Guiomar de Novaes, and many more Brazilian artists.


The polemic was so advanced that even today it resounds in controversies almost as intense as those first lived within the walls of the Theatre.


Concerts, exhibitions, applause, boos, roars: Municipal Theatre has never witnessed, before or since, such liberty of action and expression. Yet, as the property of the Municipality and subject to political pressure, the Theatre has also had scenes not in the script. Graduation balls, party conventions, carnival balls, official banquets; and as time passed, the Theatre was in a parlous state. The '50s had begun.
Disappointed international artists charged increasingly high fees. In 1954 São Paulo's IV Centenary Ballet, the city's pride, was forced on Centenary Day (25th Jan.) to perform in the Pacaembu football stadium. São Paulo was 400 years old, but its Theatre, doors closed as a result of restoration started in 1952, could not join the commemoration.


But in 1988, the Theatre celebrated the success of a major reform. Two years earlier civil, electronic and acoustic engineers, foremen, architects, historians, carpenters, plumbers, masons, joiners, glaziers, waterproofers, bricklayers, upholsterers, had all done their utmost to return to the city one of its greatest assets. Even if it was no possible to restore, all at the same time, all the public buildings in need, a start had been made with one of the most important, one of the city's dearest symbols, a veritable city in itself, a mixture of concrete and art.


Society played its part, as Senator Abranches had wanted all those years before. The Friends of the Theatre brought together businessmen and a variety of other personalities; together with the authorities, they assessed, discussed, analysed, protected and defended the community's heritage.


One by one the parts of the Theatre were restored to their original condition, item by item, detail by detail. The central chandelier, with its 7,000 pieces of glass and 220 lamps, was dismantled and cleaned, and missing pieces replaced. In 1991, its doors and windows open, its lights ablaze, its crystal radiant, the Municipal Theatre, in the image and likeness of what the city still might be, had more than reasons enough to celebrated its 80 years of existence.



































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