Rio On Location: Theatro Municipal

Photo: Fran Mateus

The façade of Rio’s largest theater hall makes an appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious; but it is in the movies Moon over Parador, and Rio, I Love You that the indoors of the theater finds its spot on screen.

Moon over Parador (1988), directed by Paul Mazursky, stars Richard Dreyfuss, Sônia Braga, Raul Julia and Fernando Rey. In the story, Jack Noah (Dreyfuss) is an actor finishing playing his role in a movie set in the fictional town of Parador, when suddenly, Alphonse Simms (also played by Dreyfuss), the local dictator, dies from a heart attack. Noah is sought out by Roberto Straussmann (Julia), the politician’s right-hand, and Straussmann makes him “an offer he can’t refuse” (very Godfather-esque – Francis Ford Coppola’s 1971 movie). Because of the physical similarities and his capacity for imitation, Noah is “invited” to substitute the deceased before the people of the city, so that Straussmann can keep the power to himself.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Inside the official residence, the false dictator meets the deceased’s former lover, Madonna Mendez (Braga), who discovers the big secret and begins guiding him on how to imitate Alphonse’s behaviour, under the condition that Noah help her convince Straussmann on allowing her to stay in town. Little by little, Noah becomes tired of being playing prisoner and puppet and, with the help of Madonna, designs a plan for regaining his freedom and that of the people of Parador.

The Municipal Theater is used in the movie as the dictator’s residence. The main entrance can be seen in two scenes: the one where Jack Noah enters the house for the first time, and when Alphonse’s mother returns after a trip to Paris. The lovely staircase, made of Italian marble and covered with a classic red carpet, makes an appearance in the movie. At its top, before it continues onto the second floor, there is a statue of a Greek goddess, a possible reminder of it being a place where imaginary tragedies are very much at home.

Photo: Warner Bros.

While the theater’s main entrance has its place in the first movie, in Rio, I Love You, the Municipal’s stage is brought to the spotlight. The movie belongs to the Cities of Love franchise, comprising ten stories. In one of them, Pas des Deux, directed by Carlos Saldanha (who also directed the adorable Rio), we meet a couple of dancers, played by Rodrigo Santoro and Bruna Linzmeyer. While in the middle of a difficult phase in their relationship, the duo performs on the gigantic stage of the theater (about 92 feet in length and 72 in depth, one of the biggest in the world).

Theatro Municipal
Photo: Fran Mateus

At the end of the nineteenth century, Rio was the country’s most important city in terms of economy, politics and culture. One can only imagine how lively and vibrant the city was. Great theater companies, both international and national, were interested in performing there, but none of the city’s theaters could live up to the situation. That is – until the most important playwright at the time, Arthur Azevedo, began a campaign that culminated in the design of what was to become the Municipal Theater, built between 1905 and 1910.

Photo: Fran Mateus

Following the dominating fashion in the French architecture of the early twentieth century, no luxuries were spared, even in the smallest details. Inspired by the Garnier Opera House in Paris, but built in an eclectic style, its architecture has even some Arab influences. Francisco Oliveira Passos and Albert Guilbert, the men responsible for the project, hired Brazilian and European painters, sculptors, and artisans for transforming both the interior and exterior of the theater in the best means available at the time. The opening of the theater took place on 14 July 1909 and, since then, the Municipal Theater has welcomed the best and most important performing companies in the different arts – opera ensembles, dance companies, orchestras – from all over Brazil and the world.

Do it
Photo: Fran Mateus

- Take an online tour of the theater, almost as rich in details as the theater’s actual ornamentation (

- Take a guided tour of the theater. They last about 40 minutes and must be scheduled ahead of time in one of the available hours at the theater’s entrance (Praça Floriano Peixoto, no number). When you get to the “Assírio Hall”, try to picture the presence of  Josephine Baker there, the American “Ebony Venus”, who was once a great hit in Paris for dancing in coffee houses with only the bare minimum on. Some say that she did it in acquiescence to the demands of the rich gentlemen who would go there.

- Go see a performance and try to imagine the days when Sarah Bernhardt, Igor Stravinsky, Maria Callas or Luciano Pavarotti stood on the theater’s immense stage.



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