Teatro Amazonas (Amazon Theater) is first on the list of “things to do in Manaus”. I was completely taken aback that an opera house would be in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, yet the opera lover in me was intrigued. So intrigued in fact, that I booked a hotel (Casa dos Frades) right across the street from unmistakeable pink building.
After a wonderful weekend exploring the Iguazu Falls, my girlfriend Chrissy and I arrived in Manaus at 2am early Monday morning. But, we had to wait til Tuesday to visit the Amazon Theater as they are closed on Mondays. We paid 40 Brazilian Real for two adult tickets that included a tour in your choice of Portuguese (by far the largest group of people), Spanish (a handful of people) or English (only the two of us). Little did I know that I was about to learn about an incredible array of topics, from historical events to the Lego company to rubber bricks, Pavarotti, the first Black governor of Amazonas and so much more.
Construction of Manaus’ Amazon Theater began in 1884 and this Renaissance-style building opened on December 31, 1896. The relatively small hall, with a seating capacity of only 701, coupled with the elegant decor makes it easy to forget that you are in the Amazon. Instead, it transports you to late 19th century western Europe, complete with a fancy ballroom.
Interestingly, bricks outside the theater were originally made of rubber to dampen the sound of carriages. This coincided well with the rubber boom happening at that time in Manaus. Over time these rubber bricks were replaced with stone ones. However, recently conductors requested that the pavement outside the back of the theater be returned to rubber bricks to quiet the outside noise while practicing.
I learned so much on my tour, but the highlight for me was being able to enter the hall during a rehearsal of one of Strauss’ ballets.
Pavarotti was there!
So, apparently in the 1990s, Pavarotti showed up one day unannounced (after traveling by boat) to the theater, but it turned out to be closed. He introduced himself and at first the employees didn’t believe he was really the famous tenor. Eventually, he was let in to see the hall and, determined to sing on the same stage that tenor Enrico Caruso had, Pavarotti sang two arias from Tosca, my favorite opera. Only a handful of people heard Pavarotti’s debut on the Teatro Amazona stage. Wow! Imagine!
And what a beautiful venue it is! The Amazon Theater has three rows of ornately-decorated balconies, and includes a governor’s box. A red carpet runs along the floor to the stage and the ceiling boasts a beautiful and colorful mural.
For the purposes of preserving history, a replica of a dressing room from the opera house’s early days has been created. The tour guide pointed out that there was a spittoon (not shown in the picture) on the floor because it was common, and even considered classy, in those days to use one. This reminded me of visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing, where it seemed that each room contained at least one porcelain spittoon.
The ballroom was grand and opulent with pillars, artwork and fancy light fixtures. When visiting this room, be sure to look up, as there is a painting entitled The Glorification of the Arts in the Amazon, in which gods and goddesses bestow their artistic gifts from above.
A mural in the grand ballroom depicts a famous scene from a Brazilian opera called “Il Guarany”, written by
Carlos Gomes. Like more than a few operas, this is a story about forbidden love and centers around an interracial love story between Pery, a Guarani prince, and Cecilia, the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman. Not surprisingly, this couple is sometimes referred to as Brazil’s Romeo and Juliet. This painting illustrates the man rescuing the woman from the fire she was to be punished by. The opera was based on a famous book written by a Brazilian author, Jose de Alancar. After it premiered in Milan on March 19, 1870, Il Guarany was the first Brazilian opera to gain international acclaim.
Importance of the Dome
The first Black governor of the state of Amazonas was elected in 1890 only a few years after slavery was made illegal in Brazil (Amazonas was one of the earlier states to outlaw it). His name was Eduaro Goncalves Ribeiro and he was governor during the construction of the theater.
In fact, it was his suggestion to add the dome, using 32 thousand of these colorful ceramic tiles.
The Danish Lego company, with a factory in Manaus, made this replica entirely out of legos. After the factory closed, the building was bought by Coca Cola and they found this replica still in tact. It was gifted it to the theater in 2002.
Great Spot for Lunch
Steps away from Manaus’ opera house is Casa da Pamonha, situated on R. Barroso, 375. This vegetarian eatery is open every day except Sundays starting at 8am and, with the exception of Saturday when it closes at 2pm, is open until 7pm. Casa da Pamonha offers a vegetarian buffet with a large selection of vegan options. Dishes on offer included vatapá de milho (corn vatapá) which is an Afro-Brazilian dish made from bread, coconut milk, finely ground peanuts and palm oil mashed into a creamy paste. (The non-vegan version of this dish includes shrimp.) I also enjoyed grão de bico ao molho com linguiça vegana (chick peas in sauce with vegan sausage), and canelone tofu e legumes (tofu cannelloni and vegetables) among others.
Vegan dishes are clearly labeled in blue (vegetarian in green). They also have a variety of homemade kombuchas for sale. The staff speak very good English and are happy to explain dishes or make suggestions about what to drink. I tried three of their kombuchas and two of them were made of Brazilian fruit that I had never heard of, but were delicious: pitaya and jambu.
The atmosphere was laid-back, the staff friendly and the decor includes an eclectic array of Amazon artifacts. I liked it so much that I went two days in a row.
Planning a Visit
The Amazon Theater is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Note that they are closed to the public on Mondays (unless you are Pavarotti LOL). Tickets are 20 Brazil real per person and people holding tickets will be divided into language groups at the top of the hour. Tours are conducted in Portuguese, Spanish or English. It is not possible to visit the theater without being a part of one of their tours and the first tour begins at 10am. Ours lasted a little more than an hour. The Amazon Theater also has a gift shop which you are invited to visit on your way out. I certainly plan to visit again, specifically for the annual Amazonas Opera Festival, which runs from April to May.