Having reopened in 2010 after an exhaustive $35 million renovation, the stunning Teatro Municipal in downtown Rio de Janeiro looks as well-crafted and intricately designed as a Carnival float. Golden statues on the roof sparkle in the tropical sunshine while stately neoclassical columns buttress the façade. Inside, grand spectator suites and elegant balconies offer superb views of the stage where Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, and Igor Stravinsky once captivated the audiences of the Brazilian capital, and where Brazilian presidents Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, and U.S. president Barack Obama more recently captivated audiences worldwide.
Inspired by the Paris Opera and inaugurated in 1909 as the most expensive theater ever built outside of Europe at the time, the Teatro Municipal hosted international orchestra and ballet performances for its first two decades, featuring French and Italian theater companies almost exclusively. Only in 1931 was Brazilian talent organized into the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre Orchestra, which focused on international as well as domestic works, including a grand production of the seminal Brazilian opera O Guarani, a melodramatic love story between a Guarani Indian warrior and the daughter of a wealthy Portuguese landowner in Brazil, based on a novel written in 1854 that was the first mainstream Brazilian work of literature to feature an indigenous protagonist.