It was a movie - Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo - that turned Teatro Amazonas into a legend; the film portrayed a man who, obsessed by a mad idea, builds an opera in the middle of jungle, manually pulling a steamship across a hill - with the help of the natives.
The unique theatre, built in a seemingly impossible place in the heart of the jungle - well, actually in the Brazilian city of millions Manaus - actually does exist. Admittedly, the real-life Italian Renaissance-style Teatro Amazonas which seats 1000 was built under somewhat different circumstances than the film would have you believe: during the years of the rubber boom, the so-called 'rubber barons' were only too happy to invest their money into creating something lasting and beautiful.
The construction went on for twelve years; the largest part of materials and details were imported from Europe, such as the white marble for staircases, thousands of ceramic tiles, the chandeliers, the sophisticated metal lacework. Even the cobble stones for the square in front of the theatre building were transported from Portugal. The tropical wood generously used in the auditorium and orchestra pit adds an unusual quality to the acoustics of the theatre. Completed in 1896, Teatro Amazonas is definitely among the most beautiful of Brazilian cultural landmarks.
In 1997, Teatro Amazonas, freshly renovated, started a new life. The Mayor of the city recruited a new orchestra from unemployed Eastern European musicians - artists from Sofia, Minsk, Warsaw, etc., found them a talented conductor and told to play whatever they felt like playing. The dawn of the new Millennium saw the Teatro Amazonas orchestra and their conductor Luiz Fernando Malheiro tackled Wagner's Das Ring des Nibelungen, starting with Siegfried, the third part of the cycle, and concluding with Das Rheingold, the introductory part of the tetralogy. By 2005, thanks to the support of major international concerns, they actually managed to stage the whole Ring cycle. The support came with a price: to the horror and consternation of the audience, the overture was preceded by a Coca-Cola jingle.
The production of the whole Ring tetralogy put Manaus on the culture map and made the Amazonas Opera Festival well known far beyond Brazil's borders.
Today, it is a common sight to see planeloads of opera lovers from worldwide arrive in Manaus to attend the Amazonas Opera Festival. One of the most incredible events of the recent years which left a permanent trace in the souls of those who witnessed it was a production of Richard Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer by the German artist Christoph Schlingensief; the performance started at the harbour and moved through the city, concluding at Teatro Amazonas and involving almost the whole of the city over the course of the unique procession.
Keywords: Manaus, Brazil, Opera House