I planned my trip to Buenos Aires for weeks. I read a travel guide and all the websites I could find. They all told of Teatro Colón, the city's huge performing arts theater. A few scenes in Destinos, the Spanish language tutorial video series were shot there, so I thought I had an idea of what it would be like. As I spent a long, sleepless night on the plane headed south, I thought more about the old theater.
It is the second largest performing arts theater in the southern hemisphere, second only to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Years before I had visited the Sydney Opera House, and I found it very different from the grand old classics of Europe and the big opera houses of North America. From the outside it looks like a pile of orange peels laying at the edge of the harbor. Inside it is all sleek, modern, wood-paneled walls. There, one night long ago, we had heard Dame Joan Sutherland sing something or other as she seemed to take up half the width of the huge stage. I knew Teatro Colón was to be nothing like that.
Once settled in my hotel and beginning to explore the city, I decided to get on down to the Teatro Colón's box office and try to get a ticket for one of the performances scheduled while I would be in town. It's easy to find-right on 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world. It is the only huge old piece of classic architecture on the street. It isn't as tall as the many office buildings that face the street, but it has a massiveness unmatched by an of its neighbors. Is it Romanesque? Neoclassical? Building styles are not one of my best subjects, but it is weighty, somber-looking, sort of dusty rose-gray with balconies, arched windows, and all the trimmings of a great old opera house. I paid the cab driver and stepped onto the sidewalk to look for the box office.
A little sign and my third year Spanish told me the office was around the corner and halfway down the block, away from the wide street. The Teatro takes up a full square block, so I walked around to get a ticket. I was too early-it opened at 2pm that afternoon-so I revised my plans and set off on a hike that took me to other sights and brought me back at the right time. About 1:50, I found the office open and went in to request a ticket for that night's performance of "La bella durniente del bosque" (Sleeping Beauty). I asked if a ticket was available, and the girl at the desk smiled and said, "Por su puesto" (Spanish for "you bet") and went on to ask where I wanted it. I asked for the best seat available, and she picked out a seat centered in the second row of the balcony.
I was surprised it was only $25.00. I remember thinking that apparently culture and entertainment in Argentina is more reasonable than it is at home. A couple of years before in New York I had laid out three times as much for a seat in about the same position in a run down old theater to see Cats. The Teatro ticket itself was unimpressive, a yellow scrap of thin note paper with the needed information printed on it. It had been rolled up and stuffed into a hole on what looked like a punchboard where each hole represented on seat in the theater. I put it into my wallet and left to return that evening for the performance.
That night, decked out in coat and tie, I was dropped by the cab driver on the wrong side of the theater. You would think, as the driver must have, that the main entrance was on the wide boulevard, but instead it is on the opposite side, on Avenida Corrientes, facing a little plaza. But I didn't complain, I just walked around the big building, under the glass and metal portico, and up a wide marble grand staircase to the grand entrance salon.
I took one of the twin grand staircases to either side of this huge salon and went up to the second floor where another salon and the entrances to the first balcony are found. Now an usher looked at my scrap of a ticket and led me to my seat. I was surprised to find it was a very comfortable upholstered arm chair like those of the private boxes, which began immediately to the left of where I was sitting. I settled in thinking I wouldn't be worried about leg room or squirming in my seat this evening.