Excelencias Turísticas del caribe y las Américas (Centroamerica) - - Es­pe­cial - By: Ro­se­ma­rie Acos­ta Lu­go Photos: TE­TEO­LI­VE­LLA.COM

It was back in 1904 and the New Re­pu­blic of Panama was li­ving mo­ments of splen­dor and growth. It was then when lo­cal aut­ho­ri­ties com­mis­sio­ned Ita­lian ar­chi­tect Ge­na­ro Rug­gie­re to de­sign the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter.

In May of that sa­me year, Pre­si­dent Manuel Ama­dor Guerrero had sig­ned in­to law a re­gu­la­tion pas­sed by the Na­tio­nal As­sembly of Cons­ti­tuent Mem­bers that ga­ve the green light to build the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter and a go­vern­men­tal pa­la­ce in an ef­fort to ma­ke the fled­gling country’s cul­tu­ral li­fe boom.

At that ti­me, Panama was ho­me to ma­jor thea­tri­cal events sta­ged by French com­pa­nies, a si­tua­tion that prom­pted the na­tion’s eco­no­mic, so­cial and cul­tu­ral bloom. Outs­tan­ding ar­tists we­re ma­king sto­po­vers in the city du­ring their tours, thus gi­ving im­pre­sa­rios the chan­ce to mount big-tic­ket shows that, ba­sed on the country’s geo­grap­hi­cal lo­ca­tion, we­re too hard to be ca­lled off.

First Ar­tis­tic Pre­sen­ta­tion

The grand ope­ning of the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter came in no ti­me. Be­gin­ning Oc­to­ber 4, the lo­cal news­pa­pers star­ted put­ting out a string of blurbs trum­pe­ting the arri­val of the Lom­bar­di Ope­ra Com­pany from Gua­te­ma­la, hi­red by Don Nar­ci­so Ga­ray to sta­ge a se­ries of pre­sen­ta­tions in Panama.

A few weeks la­ter, the Co­lon sea­port wel­co­med the Pa­ris­mi­na stea­mer with a com­pany of 25 star ar­tists, 8 sup­por­ting ac­tors, 8 ba­llet dan­cers, a 30-mem­ber choir and an or­ches­tra of a do­zen mu­si­cians, all of them un­der the lea­ders­hip of con­duc­tor Don Ma­rio Lom­bar­da.

The mo­ving of the com­pany’s lug­ga­ge re­qui­red 20 rail­road cars and ma­jor un­loa­ding ef­forts. Fi­nally, everyt­hing and every­body lan­ded sa­fe and sound in Panama City and the first pre­sen­ta­tion was sche­du­led for Oc­to­ber 22 for the pre­mie­re of the Ai­da ope­ra, one of maes­tro Giu­sep­pe Ver­di’s lo­ve­liest com­po­si­tions ever.

To top it all off, the swea­rin­gin ce­re­mony of Pre­si­dent Jo­se Do­min­go de Obal­dia hap­pe­ned to­get­her with the grand ope­ning of the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter, on Oc­to­ber 1, 1908. The­re­fo­re, Pre­si­dent Obal­dia, mem­bers of his ca­bi­net and guests of ho­nor at­ten­ded the pre­mie­re night and wat­ched the play from the pre­si­den­tial box.

That first sta­ging kic­ked off exactly at 8:40pm. Prof. Nar­ci­so Ga­ray con­duc­ted the or­ches­tra th­rough a pa­trio­tic hymn he had com­po­sed spe­cially for such a me­mo­ra­ble oc­ca­sion.

The fo­llo­wing-day chro­ni­cles and com­men­ta­ries on the pre­mie­re un­ders­co­red the mas­ter­ful­ness of the ar­tists, chiefly the Be­ne­det­to lady who­se beau­ti­ful voi­ce and his­trio­nic skills cap­ti­va­ted the au­dien­ce from the very first no­te.

The fan­ci­ness of the cos­tu­mes and the ex­tra­or­di­nary or­ches­tral sup­port we­re key ele­ments that pla­yed a ro­le in the suc­cess of the ga­la night. Over 1,000 peo­ple we­re said to ha­ve crow­ded the thea­ter’s two-tier bo­xes, front stalls, the au­di­to­rium ais­les and the rear seats. The en­ti­re pla­ce was simply burs­ting at the seams.

The beau­ti­ful de­co­ra­tion of the thea­ter and the dazz­ling lights pro­vi­ded the per­fect back­drop for la­dies in the au­dien­ce to boast their fi­nest fas­hion clot­hes and fancy je­wels.

All this much mar­ked the entry of this thea­ter in his­tory with the sup­port of Sta­te-run cul­tu­ral plans that hel­ped put the ba­rely four­year-old new re­pu­blic on the map of the Ame­ri­cas with an eye-pop­ping thea­ter fit for any of the world’s best ci­ties.

Char­ming Spa­ces

As you walk in­to the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter, you feel the ma­gic am­bience that sh­rouds the en­tran­ce hall and the th­res­holds for the play in­ter­vals. But many of the in­teriors al­so stri­ke the at­ten­tion of the pu­blic. The spa­cious fo­yer on the top floor and the de­co­ra­tion pro­vi­ded by the sym­bo­lic art of maes­tros Ro­ber­to Le­wis and En­ri­co

As­to­nis­hing fo­yers, dazz­ling lamps, the sym­bo­lic art of mas­ter scul­ptor Ro­ber­to Le­wis, neo­clas­sic bal­co­nies and a sin­gu­lar faça­de are so­me of the dis­tin­cti­ve to­kens the Panama City’s Na­tio­nal Thea­ter boasts

Co­rra­do are good ca­ses in point.

Mu­ra­list Le­wis de­sig­ned the cei­ling ro­se, a highly ar­tis­tic art­work de­pic­ting the birth of the new re­pu­blic who­se la­yout re­pre­sents alle­go­ri­cally the ma­jes­tic cha­rac­ter of the ho­me­land stan­ding next to Apo­llo, the mu­ses and ot­her clas­sic fi­gu­res. The­se pain­tings we­re ma­de by the ar­tist so­mew­he­re bet­ween 1897 and 1908 when Le­wis was ser­ving as Pa­na­ma­nian con­sul to Fran­ce. The pie­ces of work we­re fe­rried aboard a stea­mer to the Pa­na­ma­nian ca­pi­tal.

Known as the for­mer Nuns Head­quar­ters, the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter can seat 853 peo­ple dis­tri­bu­ted in the au­di­to­rium ais­les, the front stalls, the two-tier bal­co­nies and the rear seats. This ar­tis­tic spa­ce sports the ar­chi­tec­tu­re of an Ita­lian-sty­le ope­ret­ta thea­ter, let alo­ne a roomy fo­yer that wel­co­mes vi­si­tors and leads them to the rest of the areas.

On the bot­tom floor, the sta­ge is deep enough to gi­ve ac­tors and ac­tres­ses plenty of wig­gle room, whi­le the backs­ta­ge has been re­si­zed to ac­com­mo­da­te the needs of mo­dern or­ches­tras. The front stalls and the au­di­to­rium ais­les are ex­ce­llently laid out and out­fit­ted with com­for­ta­ble arm­chairs that gua­ran­tee a peer­less view of the sta­ge.

Af­ter 100 years of exis­ten­ce, the fi­nest com­pa­nies from the Ame­ri­cas and Eu­ro­pe ha­ve ma­de su­perb pre­sen­ta­tions of such clas­sic pie­ces as Ai­da, Car­men, Lam­me­mour’s Lu­cia, The Ma­gic Flu­te, Tos­ca and Faust. Bold­fa­ce na­mes of the per­for­ming arts from around the world, li­ke Mar­got Fon­tai­ne and Ali­cia Alon­so, and ta­len­ted mu­si­cians li­ke Nelly, Ja­mes In­gram, Al­fre­do de Saint Ma­lo, Ro­que Cor­de­ro, Herbert de Cas­tro, Eduar­do Char­pen­tier and Car­men Ce­de­ño ha­ve ac­ted in this ins­ti­tu­tion that so much glory and pri­de gi­ve to the who­le Pa­na­ma­nian peo­ple.

Many de­tails blow li­fe in­to the Na­tio­nal Thea­ter: the sym­bo­lic art of mas­ter scul­ptor Ro­ber­to Le­wis and En­ri­co Con­ra­do, and the highly ar­tis­tic co­lumns un­ders­co­res its uni­que per­so­na­lity.

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