History and overview
The Chilean government ceded a significant parcel of land in downtown Santiago to the municipality, in 1848, and an 1853 decree by President Manuel Montt Torres provided for the construction of a municipal theater in his nation's capital, by then a rapidly-growing city. French Chilean architect Claudio Brunet des Baines was commissioned for its design, and its construction was entrusted to another French Chilean, civil engineer Felipe Charme de l´Isle. Brunet des Baines created a French Neoclassical exterior for the theater, though his 1855 death left the supervision of the design to his countryman, Lucien Henault and to the latter's assistant, Manuel Aldunate. The new team also benefited from a collaboration with Charles Garnier, the architect of the Opéra National de Paris.
The Municipal Theater was inaugurated in September 17, 1857, with the opera Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by an Italian company brought in specially for the occasion. The theater, at the time, had a capacity for 1,800 spectators, and included distinctive interior details such as a teardrop crystal chandelier. A December 8, 1870, performance by opera deva Carola Patti was followed by a massive fire, however, that practically destroyed the building. A quick response by both the local government and Chilean high society resulted in the theater's prompt reconstruction, designed by Henault and completed on July 16, 1873. Its reinauguration was accompanied by a performance of Verdi's La forza del destino.
The theater went through a devastating 1906 earthquake, suffering the loss of most of its interior, and a second, serious fire in 1927 - though it recovered quickly on both occasions. Following these reconstructions, the theater's capacity would be of 1,500 spectators (in the main hall), though its interior became more opulent. It was modernized further in 1952 and 1959, and numerous cultural institutions were created for the theater during that era. The Symphony Orchestra was established in 1955, the Cultural Corporation of Santiago was formed to administer the center in 1957, the Santiago Ballet in 1959, and the Philharmonic Chorus, in 1962.
The Municipal Theater was declared a National Monument, in 1974. Renowned Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, who had left his homeland in 1941, returned for a visit in 1984, on which occasion the Claudio Arrau Salon, seating 250 spectators, was inaugurated. The stage curtain, installed in 1926, was replaced in 1995 with funds raised by offering donors a piece of the older curtain as a keepsake. The institution continues to maintain an active repertoire, and some of its most illustrious recent international guest performers and conductors have included: names in ballet such as Julio Bocca, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet; pianists Claudio Arrau and Arthur Rubinstein, as well as conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim; violinists Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Gil Shaham and Isaac Stern; and stage performers such as Plácido Domingo, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Vivien Leigh, Luciano Pavarotti and Tito Schipa.
Its Music Director is currently Jan Latham-Koenig, a British conductor who has led numerous European orchestras and Opera companies.