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The Municipal Theatre, Ouro Preto
Luso-Brazilian Style
( - 1770) Ouro Preto, MG


passer-by in the rua de Santa Quitéria, in the second half of 1770, would have seen the newly-opened Casa da Ópera de Vila Rica.
A passer-by in the rua Brigadeiro Musqueira, at any time in 1995, would see Ouro Preto´s Municipal Theatre, under a conservation order from the Departament for The National Historical Heritage.
The casa da Ópera de Vila Rica, the oldest theatre building in South America, was finished in 1769, and cost João de Souza Lisboa, its builder and owner, the sum of 16,000 cruzados.
Contractor for a number of royal taxes, Souza Lisboa was fascinated by the art of the theatre; from the very beginning he had the support of the Count of Valadares, Governor of the Province, and of his secretary, poet Cláudio Manuel da Costa. During his lifetime, Souza Lisboa controlled the Casa da Ópera; he contracted actors in Sabará and Tijuco, collected influential personalities - intellectuals, soldiers, politicians - capable of giving support at decisive moments, concerned himself with the painting and decoration of building.
In a letter to a friend, Joaquim José Freire de Andrade, superintendent of gold in the Province of Goiás, gives some importance to the fact that the men who played women´s parts had been newly replaced by actresses, and that one of them had played the part with "every skill, better that those in Rio de Janeiro". Inevitably, a little of the Casa da Ópera da Vila Rica died. Together with his creator, in 1778.
Eight years later it re-emerged, triumphant, for the wedding feast of the prince D. João, with three nights of opera and the hopped-for and applauded presence of Joana Maria, Violanta Mônica, and A. Fontes.
>From then on, under various administrators, the Casa da Ópera had its ups and downs, though it never closed.
Around 1817, public attention turned to the need for rebuilding and maintenance the Theatre once again had its days of glory, but they threatened to become increasingly distant. The Opera House was the center for the cultural hopes of society, and it reacted positively in the interest of the community. By 1820, the entusiasm of public and theatre companies was such that performances were weekly. Week by week the public, undaunted by the problems of getting to the rough rua de Santa Quitéria, filled galleries and stalls, the latter a little lower than the stage.
Writer Affonso Ávila, author of "Theatre in Minas Gerais: 18th and 19th centuries" wrote that "anyone visiting the Municipal Theatre of Ouro Preto today will sense an atmosphere of involvement, of dramatic impact, and will recall the climate of the baroque, a propitious environment for the earliest spectators and performances alike".
But the sense of involvement came to an almost complete end in 1885, when the provincial government planned the new theatre which Vila Rica, as Capital, deserved.
On leaving the government of the province to his successor, Counsellor Herculano Ferreira Penna, President Francisco Diogo Pereira de Vasconcelos declared that "Your Excellency will do very well in providing this city with a building which will provide entertainment for the inhabitants, and will use the talents and property of certain young people who found it difficult to work in the old theatre, on the point of falling down".
The Theatre never fell, nor was a new one built. Rebuilding, which lasted seven years, "was carried out with perfection and economy".
Yet Governor and governed in Vila Rica dreamed persistently, at the end of the 19th century, of a spacious, comfortable, modern theatre. Of the several motives, one stood out: with the threat to transfer the capital elsewhere, who knows, a great new theatre might change the picture.
The picture changed indeed at the end of the 19th century, in Vila Rica , in Minas Gerais, all over Brazil, with the arrival of the phonograph and the cinema.
Theatres audiences diminished; Ouro Preto was like everywhere else. Little by little old and new adapted to each other, each in its own space. And again, the Municipal Theatre of Ouro Preto was just like everywhere else.




















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