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São Carlos National Theatre

São Carlos National Theatre (26)

Before the 1755 earthquake destroyed it, an opera house was located on the site of what is today the National Theatre. 

Almost forty years after, an influential group of Lisbon business men identified the need to create an opera theatre in the city, and decided to finance the construction of this building located in the historic centre of Lisbon, on top of what used to be the former opera house.

The project was put in the hands of the Portuguese architect José Costa da Silva in 1792 and in just six months construction was completed. So, in 1793 the theatre was inaugurated and opened with ´The Ballerina Lover` by Domenico Cimarosa.

Maybe this first performance was Italian because of the country’s strong architectural influence on the building, which is evident in both the facade and interior. If you have been to ´La Scala` theatre in Milan you will recognise its influence on the exterior of the “Sao Carlos” theatre. While the interior design borrows from the “San Carlo” in Naples.   

The facade is neo-classic, with lovely proportions, an entrance portico and a terrace. What’s more, it is decorated with a clock and the city’s coat of arms. On closer inspection you will be able to read the Latin inscriptions that dedicate the theatre to Princess Carlota of Spain, who had arrived in Portugal in 1790 to marry the future king, Prince Joao.

Inside you will find a charming, rococo design. The main hall, like ´La Scala’s` in Milan, is of an elliptic plan. It has five levels of boxes and galleries and can hold up to twelve hundred spectators. The royal box was richly decorated by the Italian artist Giovanni Appiani.

If visiting Lisbon between September and June, you can have a look at the opera programme on offer, bringing to the stage some of the most famous international singers. Also available during the rest of the year is a wide and interesting programme of theatre, dance and classical concerts. 

Until very recently, the square in which the theatre is located was taken up by a car park, which made it difficult to appreciate the building’s exterior and spoilt the charm of its night performances. However, there has recently been a remodelling of the area and you can now sit and have a coffee in the theatre’s restaurant outside.

What’s more, if you are lucky you might see an enormous screen set up on the theatre’s facade and be able to enjoy one of the occasional live transmissions of a performance taking place inside. Make the most of it if you can!

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