The present theatre, the second with that name, opened in 1908 after twenty years under construction. The auditorium is horseshoe-shaped, has 2,487 seats (slightly more than, say, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, England), standing room for 1,000 and a stage which is 20 m wide, 15 m high and 20 m deep. The acoustics are considered one of the best five acoustics in opera in the world.
The theatre is bounded by the extremely wide 9 de Julio Avenue (technically Cerrito Street), Libertad Street (the main entrance), Arturo Toscanini Street, and Tucumán Street. It is in the heart of the city on a site once occupied by Ferrocarril Oeste's Plaza Parque station.
Before the construction of the current Teatro Colón, opera performances were given in several theatres, of which the first Teatro Colón and the Teatro Opera were the most important. The principal company that performed at the Teatro Opera moved to the Teatro Colón in 1908. However, important companies also performed at the Teatro Politeama and the Teatro Coliseo which opened in 1907. For many years Argentina was a prosperous country with a booming economy, and the Teatro Colón was visited by the foremost singers and opera companies of the time, who would sometimes go on to other cities including Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
colonnade, both long since demolished.]]
By the mid-1850s, with the flourishing of opera performed by touring companies, the need for a new theatre became obvious. In 1854 alone, 53 different operas were performed in the city. The first Teatro Colón building, located in Plaza de Mayo, was started in 1856 and opened on 27 April 1857 with Verdi's La traviata, just four years after its Italian premiere. The production starred Sofia Vera Lorini as Violetta and Enrico Tamberlik as Alfredo. The theatre was designed by Carlos Enrique Pelligrini, father of the future president of Argentina, Carlos Pellegrini, and proved to be a successful venue for over 30 years, with 2,500 seats and the inclusion of a separate gallery reserved only for women. A reason why they built it was to demonstrate their power and independence and fulfill a rich cultural aspect of Argentina.
The cornerstone of the present Teatro Colón was laid in 1889 under the direction of architect Francesco Tamburini and his pupil, Vittorio Meano, who designed a theatre in the Italian style on a scale and with amenities which matched those in Europe. However, delays followed due to financial difficulties, arguments regarding the location, the death of Tamburini in 1891, the murder of Meano in 1904 and the death of Angelo Ferrari, an Italian businessman who was the financing the new theatre. The building was finally completed in 1908 under the direction of the Belgian architect Julio Dormal who made some changes in the structure and left his mark in the French style of the decoration.
The theatre opened on 25 May 1908, Día de la Patria in Argentina, with a performance of Verdi's Aida and it quickly became a world-famous operatic venue rivaling La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in attracting most of the world's best opera singers and conductors.
Over the years, the Colón Theatre has hosted great composers like Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saëns and Arthur Honegger, conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Tullio Serafin, Ernest Ansermet, Thomas Beecham, Karl Böhm, Simon Rattle, stars of the Italian opera like Titta Ruffo, Amelita Galli-Curci, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe Borgatti, Claudia Muzio, Tito Schipa, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Caniglia, Beniamino Gigli, Ebe Stignani, Luciano Pavarotti, Fiorenza Cossotto, Giuseppe Taddei, Carlo Bergonzi, Renato Bruson and Renata Scotto. International singers like Lily Pons, Miguel Fleta, Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Rosa Raisa, Gina Cigna, Zinka Milanov, Leonard Warren, Leyla Gencer, Victoria de los Ángeles, Fritz Wunderlich, Sena Jurinac, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Régine Crespin, Jon Vickers, Norman Treigle, Ingrid Bjoner, Irina Arkhipova, Teresa Berganza, Sherrill Milnes, Frederica von Stade, Beverly Sills, Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Montserrat Caballé, Martina Arroyo, James King, Christa Ludwig, Evelyn Lear, Elisabeth Grümmer, Waltraud Meier, Ghena Dimitrova, Thomas Stewart, Karita Mattila, Jose van Dam, Eva Marton, Jessye Norman and many others along with internationally renowned Argentinian opera singers Raúl Giménez, Hina Spani, Elena Suliotis, José Cura, Bernarda Fink, Marcelo Alvarez, Adelaida Negri, Angel Mattiello, Victor de Narké, Delia Rigal, Ana Maria Gonzalez, etc.
Before and specially during the war years, conductors Erich Kleiber, Felix Weingartner, Fritz Busch and Otto Klemperer developed the "German Season" with singers like Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehmann, Helen Traubel, Viorica Ursuleac, Kirsten Flagstad, Marjorie Lawrence, Hans Hotter,Set Svanholm, Max Lorenz, Astrid Varnay, Tiana Lemnitz, Anny Konetzni, Friedrich Schorr, Alexander Kipnis, Karin Branzell, Emmanuel List, Meta Seinemeyer rivaling the Metropolitan Opera season during those years.
Ballet stars - Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky, Alonso, Nureyev, Fonteyn, Baryshnikov, Plisetskaya, among others - performed at the Colón alongside Argentine dancers such as Julio Bocca, Paloma Herrera, Jorge Donn and classical instrumentalists from Arthur Rubinstein to Evgeny Kissin as the Argentinians Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, Bruno Gelber and the Brazilian Nelson Freire.
Many popular Argentine stars have performed at the Theatre. They include Aníbal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Ástor Piazzolla, Susana Rinaldi, Osvaldo Piro, Leopoldo Federico, Rodolfo Mederos, Les Luthiers, Luis Alberto Spinetta and Mercedes Sosa.
Boasting excellent acoustics and modern stage areas, the theatre's interior design features a rich scarlet and gold decor. The cupola contains frescoes painted in 1966 by the renowned 20th-century artist Raúl Soldi during renovation work.
In recent years, given the political and economic circumstances of Argentina, the Colón Theatre has suffered considerably but has now begun a period of slow recovery. The theatre is currently undergoing phased remodeling, and production activities ceased at the end of October 2006 to allow full refurbishment. Some of the last performances immediately before closure of the theatre's building were:
The last performance on the theater's building was an extraordinary concert on November 1st, by the folklore singer Mercedes Sosa and the Teatro Colón Stable Orchestra conducted by Pedro Ignacio Calderón.
While it was originally planned to reopen in time for the centenary on 25 May 2008, delays prevented this and it is now planned to reopen in May 2010.