Karyl Charna Lynn
The Opera Critic

Architectural guide to the Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro


The Theatro Municipal is a Renaissance jewel, inspired by the Palais Garnier, and reminiscent of Europe’s grand opera houses. Its imposing façade boasts fourteen massive fluted Corinthian columns which support the entablature. On the frieze, Theatro Municipal is inscribed in golden letters. Between the Carrera marble columns which rest on Candelaria granite bases are three bronze entrance doors. A Carrera marble balcony and stained glass window, depicting different Muses, by Henrique Bernardelli are above each door. Mascarons embellishes the Candelaria granite arches around the entrances. Statues representing Music and Poetry by Rodolfo Bernardelli crown the entablature, between which rises the coat-of-arms of the municipality with MCMV-MCMIX, (dates of the building’s construction) underneath. On the roof, soaring above all, is a golden eagle on a glass dome ready to take flight.

Rotundas, decorated by Rodolfo Amoedo, are located on each side of the main façade. Etched in gold on the frieze are the names of the grand masters of music and the dramatic arts: Verdi, Gomes, Goethe, Penna, Wagner, and Moliere. Crowning the green and gold cupolas are lighted domes. Carrera marble statues representing Dance, Song, Tragedy and Comedy adorn the theater’s side façades, which are lined with gilded Corinthian columns.

The décor of the vestibule recalls the Medici chapel with its mixture of green onyx, beige marble, gilded bronze, porphyry, and alabaster, and adorned with gilded festoons, anthemion, and the coat-of- arms of the municipality. Flanking the grand staircase, (which is modeled after the one at the Paris Ópéra) are two bronze statues by R. Verlet, Dance, and Poetry. At the top of the stairs is a white marble statue representing Truth by A. Injalbert. The gold and white foyer, decorated in Louis XVI style, is circled by a colonnade. Filled with Italian beige marble and gilded bronze decorations, the grand foyer is adorned with nude women and angles in a dream-like state on the vaulted ceiling, and “Musica” in the tympanum, all by Elyseu d’Angelo Visconti. Medallions of composers, including, Verdi, Mozart, Gounod, Wagner decorate the walls, with ivory and gold ornamentation of cherubs, wreaths and ribbons. The rotundas, located at the foyer’s corners, offer a central circular seating area with ceilings painted by Henrique Bernardelli. Each rotunda has a theme, one of which is Dance with paintings depicting dancers from Spain, Hungary and France. Lining the corridor before entering the auditorium are busts of composers and writers: Shakespeare, Verdi, Wagner, Molière, Gounod, Mozart, the Brazilian actor João Caetano, and Brazilian author Arthur Azevedo.

The 2,357-seat, three-tiered, horseshoe-shaped auditorium sparkles with its original 1909 decór. The chocolate-brown leather seats are again plush red velvet, the beige/tan walls glow in their original pink, and the brown carpet was removed to expose the elegant, original wood flooring. The original, second tier center boxes, however, previously converted to open balcony seating, were not reintroduced, nor was the single center aisle for the stalls. The parapets radiate with gilded rosettes, garlands, and cartouches on the first tier, festoons and cornucopia on the second, and anthemia on the third. On the right side is the proscenium box reserved for the President of the Republic, identified by a five-pointed gilded star, and scrolls inscribed with Stados Unidos do Brazil15 November 1889. Anthemia alternating with ovum and crossed ribbon embellish the proscenium arch. The apotheosis of Oréades by Visconti fills the frieze above the proscenium arch and numerous semi-nude women in Dance of the Hours circle the crystal chandelier. The original Coat-of- Arms at the proscenium arch apex flanked by two Muses, one with lyre, the other blowing the horn evoking Apollo flanking was not reinstated.

The focal point of the auditorium, however, is the magnificent stage curtain by Visconti called The Influence of the Arts on Civilization: in the rear, the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) with winged spirit representing Art ruling over the world of art and music through the ages. The painting is divided into groups: one side finds Minerve, the Louvre, Athens and Rome; to the right is Orpheus and Homer with the statue of St. Ambroise (creator of sacred music) nearby; next is Giotto and Dante, representing the Renaissance; the apotheosis of Palestrina follows, with de Vinci, Titan, Raphael, and Michangelo; then the poets, writers, artists, composers: Camoens, Corneille, Racine, Shakespeare, Mozart,  Rubens, Van Dyke, Velasque  Rembrant, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Beethoven. The Romantic period is represented by Victor Hugo, Berlioz, Wagner, Delacroix, Ingres, Meyerbeer, Menzel, Schopenhauer, Rossini, and Verdi. Finally famous Brazilians: José Bonifacio, João Caetano, and Dom Pedro II, along with Coelho and Passos architects of the Teatro Municipal.


On the ground floor, outside of the Assyria Salon don’t miss the series of mosaics from opera: Guarany (Act I Scene V), Tosca (Act III, Scene II), Elektra (Act III, Scene V), Siegfried, (Act IV, Scene III; and theater: Cyrano de Bergerac (Act III, Scene VII), Othello (Act V, Scene II), Faust (Act II, Scene VI), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Act III, Scene XVIII).


Practical information for visiting the Theatro Municipal and Rio de Janeiro

Praça Floriano, s/n – 4 andar – Centro, Rio de Janeiro – CEP 20031-050



How to get there: Fly TAM- Brazilian Airlines (www.TAM.com.br) into Rio de Janeiro’s international airport (GIG).                 

Ticket prices for opera performances (prices approx depending on exchange rate): plateía (stalls) $100, frisa lugares (seat in box around orchestra) $100, balcão nobre (1st tier) $100, camarotes lugares (seat in 1st tier side box) $100, balcão superior (2nd tier) $75, galeria (3rd tier) $40.  Note: TM has an unusual seat numbering system. Right side 12-26 (even), left side 11-25 (odd), center section right half 2-10 (even), center section left half 1-9 (odd). Box office is located on Av. Almirante Barroso, 14/16 in the annex building to the TM.


Dress code: Located in a beach resort, the TM has a strict policy prohibiting those wearing Bermuda shorts, short shorts, tank tops, or flip-flops from entering the opera house.

Refreshments: on the ground floor in the Assyria Salon, (also called Café do Teatro) decorated in a striking Babylonia/Egyptian style, champagne, wine, soft drinks, water, and sandwiches are for sale before and during intermission. During warmer months, tables are also set up outside; similar refreshments are for sale from the bar on the left side portico of the balcão nobre (1st tier), and from an indoor café on the left side of the galeria (3rd tier).   

Opera house shop: Souvenirs of the Theatro Municipal are sold on tables set up at each side of the grand staircase. They vary depending upon the performance from t-shirts to lovely round, metal boxes decorated with an early photo of the Municipal.

Dining  tips: Brazilians eat late so plan on dining after the opera. The artists go to La Fiorentina, Av. Atlântica, 458-A Leme; tel: 21 2543 8395; www.lafiorentina.com.br whose walls are covered with photographs and autographs of performers at the Municipal. Another choice is a Brazilian steakhouse: Porcão, Rua Barbão da Torre 218, Ipanema; tel 21 3202-9158. www.porcao.com.br.


Recommended Books

Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro 100 Anos (G.Ermakoff Casa Editorial), www.ermakoff.com.br. Published to commemorate the 100th  anniversary of the Theatro Municipal, it is a gorgeous coffee table book, filled with exquisite photographs of the theater, performances, posters, and artists. Although in Portuguese, the pictures tell the story.


Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro 1913 (Salamandra Consultoria Editorial S/A.) This is a reissue of the book published in 1913, commemorating the inauguration of the opera house. If you can locate it, it fascinating to compare the photographs with the above recommended book,  allowing a detailed comparison of the opera house changes and renovations. Although in Portuguese and French, the b+w photos of the original opera house are historically significant.


Enjoying the surf on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Sugarlaof from Copacapana Beach
ALL INFORMATION and PHOTOGRAPHS are copyright. No reproduction without express permission from Karyl Charna Lynn 
Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro
Detail of facade's stain glass window of TM
Detail of cupola of TM
Grand Staircase of TM

Statue Truth overlooking Grandstaircase 

Hall of Busts in TM
Karyl in Grand Foyer of TM
Auditorium of TM

Ceiling in auditorium of TM

Side exterior TM

Assyria Slaon
Mosaic outside Assyria Salon
Another mosaic outside Assyria Salon
View of Corcovado from Grand Foyer of TM
View of Corcovado from hotel rooftop on  Copacobano 
Selling umbrellas on Copacabana
Model Theatro Municipal's renovation and restoration project