History of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão

Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão
Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão

The Arthur Azevedo Theatre, one of the most beautiful postcards and an important show house in São Luís, as well as most Brazilian theatres built in the 19th century, was built to meet the wishes of the petty bourgeoisie of Ludovico at the time who, enriched by the prosperous cotton production in the state, wanted to see in the city a space for quality dramatic art and lyrical music shows and in suitable conditions as in the main cultural centres of the world.

On the initiative of Eleutério Lopes da Silva Varela and Estêvão Gonçalves Braga, wealthy Portuguese merchants who had settled in the region, the theatre, the fourth built in the city, began to be erected in 1815 in one of the noblest areas of the capital of Maranhão, at the time the fourth most important Brazilian city.

Teatro Arthur Azevedo em São Luís do Maranhão

The original plan of this great show house envisaged opening the doors of the temple of art to the noble Largo do Carmo / Praça João Lisboa, having, on the sides, Rua do Sol e da Paz, where an imposing facade would show all the greatness of the work, and at the back, Travessa dos Sineiros.

Also visit the Teatro João do Vale in São Luís.

But those who know the city know that there is also the Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which housed the priests of the Carmelite Order.

And it was these neighbours who created an obstacle to the construction of the theatre that had already begun, claiming that it was inappropriate for the church to have a house of profane spectacles in the neighbourhood that would affront religious values.

The legal dispute lasted for some time resulting in the embargo of the work.

Drawing of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão
Drawing of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão

In order not to displease the population, who so desired the space, Judge Antônio Ferreira Tezinho, also a priest, allowed the work to continue by imposing some conditions that somewhat disfavoured the sumptuousness of the artistic temple.

The theatre was then built again in 1816 with its main façade facing Rua do Sol, as we know it today, losing the natural ventilation of the city.

The building, however, remained cramped, squeezed between other constructions, with streets of high automobile circulation in front and to the side that caused consequent and disturbing noises, in addition to parking difficulties.

Even so, the theatre, the only truly neoclassical monument in the city, was seen as a tasteful environment by the people of Ludovico.

The neoclassical style was spread to Brazil by the French artistic mission brought by King João VI in 1816.

Learn more about João Lisboa Square, in the Centre of São Luís.

Foyer of the Theatre where bust of Apolônia Pinto and Arthur Azevedo are located
Foyer of the Theatre where bust of Apolônia Pinto and Arthur Azevedo are located

Inauguration – It took only one year for the theatre to open its doors.

On 1 July 1817, the União Theatre was inaugurated, two years after the inclusion of Brazil in the United Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves, a fact that originated the name of the building.

Based on the so-called Italian horseshoe-shaped theatre, the house consists of a central space, with an excellent frontal viewing angle, and four orders of vertical spaces: frieze, box, balcony and gallery, as well as a government box, with a total of 800 seats, which accommodated 5% of the local population at the time, who were able to see the famous French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish companies in their golden age.

Since its inauguration, the União has gone through golden times and great crises, closing its doors for long periods. In 1852, the house was renamed São Luiz Theatre, with the arrival of a dramatic company from Portugal.

In 1854, on the night of 26 April, the first masked ball was held there, an unprecedented event with great repercussions in the province.

Arthur Azevedo Theatre audience in São Luís do Maranhão
Arthur Azevedo Theatre audience in São Luís do Maranhão

That same year, on 21 June, the venue would serve as a cradle for Apolônia Pinto, the daughter of a Portuguese actress who went into labour in the middle of the theatre.

In dressing room number 1, one of the great actresses of Brazilian theatre was born, who already at the age of 12 enchanted audiences with the play “A Cigana de Paris”.

At just over 65, Apolônia Pinto was forgotten in the Artists’ Retreat in Rio de Janeiro, and died in November 1937 at the age of 83.

Apolônia Pinto’s remains are kept in the Theatre itself, on the ground floor, in a niche that gives access to the audience. There, the actress was also honoured with a bronze bust and a plaque alluding to her brilliant cultural career, located in dressing room No. 1.

The definitive name, Teatro Arthur Azevedo, came in the 1920s, during the Urbano Santos government, in honour of the illustrious and brilliant Maranhão theatrical artist Arthur Nabantino Gonçalves Azevedo, one of the exponents of Brazilian theatre literature.

In times of crisis, the theatre also functioned as a cinema, as well as undergoing restorations that ended up de-characterising some of its elements.

In the 1960s, Newton Bello’s government ended the contract with the Mattos Aguiar film company, which had leased it, and reverted the house to state property.

Reform of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre
Reform of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre

Reforms – In 1969, after a long period of renovation carried out by the José Sarney government, the Arthur Azevedo Theatre was again delivered to the public, with the staging of João Mohana’s play “Abraão e Sara”, staged by amateur artists from Maranhão – at that time, the house was presented with its famous chandelier, a donation from the then first lady Marly Sarney.

Under the Edison Lobão government, a major renovation and restoration project was carried out, placing the TAA among the most modern and well-equipped in the world.

The first stage involved historical research to reconstitute the original details, the second was initiated with a modernisation of the stage, restoration of the audience and construction of two annexes, where the administrative and service parts work.

The house was reopened at the end of 1993 with several changes. The last renovation took place in January 2002.

History of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre in São Luís do Maranhão

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