“To reopen a theater is to reborn a neighborhood, a city and, without exaggeration, a country”, emphasizes Fernanda Montenegro. She is thrilled to learn that Teatro Copacabana Palace will reopen in November, after nearly three decades closed. Part of the actress’ memories — and the history of the performing arts in Brazil — occupies the seats of the room founded on September 9, 1949, a pioneer in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro and better known by the nickname Teatro Copacabana.
Inactive since 1994, the address with entrance and ticket office facing Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Avenue, at the back of the famous hotel, was the stage for Fernanda’s professional debut on the platform. In 1950, the then 21-year-old girl joined the cast of the play “Alegres Canções na Montanha”, alongside colleagues such as Nicette Bruno, Beatriz Segall and, look at this, Fernando Torres, with whom she began a long-term union in rehearsals. Although the editing was a failure, Fernanda’s name figured as a positive highlight among critics. It was an artistic birth, she recalls.
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— I started my life at Teatro Copacabana. Then there were seven more plays there — recalls the 91-year-old actress. — The Copacabana Theater had its own light. Big and elegant montages… And huge hits, non-stop. To close a theater is to die a little. To reopen a theater is to be reborn. So how welcome is this reopening. This theater is a cultural center of immense history, human warmth, vibrancy, a hopeful reality in Brazil. It’s what we want back.
The Copacabana Theater that will make the public’s face is a completely revamped luxury piece. the extensive foyer to the wood-paneled room, with capacity for 332 seats, what is seen is a spectacle of extremely high value — the Belmond chain, responsible for administration, does not reveal the amount invested. The premiere piece in November (at a date yet to be defined) is a musical about the hotel itself.
— The public will want to watch the plays and also the theater itself — jokes engineer Paulo Pozzobon, in charge of the works, which won kicks in 2018.
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The hotel’s general manager, Ulisses Marreiros, points out that the project signed by the architect Ivan Rezende “goes beyond what would be a normal renovation of a space that already existed”. The fact is that it would not be possible to reconstruct the theater as it was built. In 1953, during a season of the play “Mulheres feias”, with Fernanda Montenegro, a large fire consumed the room, which was only reopened, already completely reconfigured, in 1955.
The 21st century theater version is more robust. There’s now a cafe next to a lobby, for example. And, behind the scenes, there are secrets consistent with this pandemic period, such as the air conditioning system imported from the USA, which, say those responsible, expels an effective substance to eliminate viruses from the premises.
— Today, it is not enough to create beautiful theater. It is necessary to mix craftsmanship with high technology — says project manager Taissa Thiry. “It seemed like an impossible mission, but it worked.
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Theater of ‘elegant entertainment’
The numbers behind the renovation of the new Copacabana Palace Theater are noteworthy, a project that involved more than 600 professionals and was permanently monitored by entities such as Iphan. Among elements such as eight sumptuous chandeliers — five of them restored —, 44 crystal sconces, plasters (hand paintings that imitate stone), carpets imported from Turkey and 1,945 meters of fabric in unique colors for local upholstery, there are details that took time to flourish.
One of the few parts to withstand the 1953 fire, the theater’s front marquee was stripped by three specialists until the original color of the ornaments on the facade of the listed building was found. On the internal walls, in stone or wood, professionals have hand-carved coats of arms, geometric figures and rosettes reminiscent of other spaces at Copacabana Palace. To maintain the continuity of the wood design in the room’s cladding, around 70,000 meters of ironwood sheets were used.
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The leading role given to the beauty of the theatre, with its glamorous balcony and boxes, rescues the refinement associated with a certain period, assesses Isabelle Cury, an architect linked to Iphan, who accompanied the works. At the end of the 1940s, as soon as it opened (in place of a concert hall in the hotel’s extinct casino), Teatro Copacabana started to bring to the scene a certain “elegant entertainment”. And so the room became notable in the then federal capital.
Paulo Autran, Tônia Carrero, Eva Wilma, Jorge Dória, as well as Henriette Morineau and her troupe Os Atores Unidos, were frequent names on stage in the 1950s and 1960s. Until it closed due to administrative issues, the address welcomed other artists such as Renata Sorrah , Marieta Severo, Bibi Ferreira and Nathalia Timberg in shows that are almost always commercially successful. Vera Fischer and the cast of the play “Desejo” were the last to step there.
— Teatro Copacabana consolidated a type of market theater with a high standard of production: they were refined shows, designed for a wide range of the public, and that didn’t level out from below — comments GLOBO journalist and critic Daniel Schenker, who currently performs a postdoctoral research on Teatro Copacabana, at UniRio.
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my theater is a play
Depending on the room’s modern acoustic structure — and the 20-meter warp, which allows for agile changes of scenery, something rare in Rio —, the theater’s programming will continue to privilege bold assemblies visually and soundly.
The opening will be marked by the premiere of the unprecedented “Copacabana Palace — O musical”, with text by Ana Velloso, Vera Novello and Luis Erlanger, under the direction of Gustavo Wabner and Sergio Módena. With a cast of 15 actors led by Suely Franco, Vanessa Gerbelli and Claudio Lins, the production reviews the hotel’s history, from the opening in 1923 to today, with references to medallions that were there, such as Carmen Miranda, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong .
— The Copa radiated our culture, and that’s what interests us in the play — says Wabner, who has been designing the project since 2016. — We would debut between 2019 and 2020 in another location, but we were hit by the pandemic. In the meantime, there was the happy coincidence of the theater’s reopening.
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