Gran Teatro de La Habana, the main venue of the Cuban National Ballet, is a very valuable architectural work, although an academician in search of clearer, more linear constructive categories may perhaps disqualify it.
Havana’s Parque Central is a much frequented zone that has witnessed the passing of different architectural periods, from the old and beautiful structure of Hotel Inglaterra, dating from the 19th century, to the unusual layout of the Plaza Hotel from the early 20th century or the modern structure of the NH Parque Central Hotel.
However, looking at them doesn’t cause as spectacular an impact as the Gran Teatro de La Habana, which because of its many different styles never escapes notice, in spite of the fact that it may perhaps be disqualified by specialists in search of clearer, more linear categories.
Scholars make a note of its evident and predominant eclecticism in which neo-baroque, French Renaissance, neo-classical and even Spanish rococo elements are to be found.
That possible wonder of Cuban architecture, located between the streets of San José, San Rafael, Prado and Consulado, is due to the interest of the Sociedad Gallega, the most important and representative Spanish regional society in Cuba at the start of the last century.
Thirty-eight percent of the Spaniards living in the Caribbean nation at the time came from Galicia, and the social institution was planning to move from its former center and construct a new venue that would symbolize the greatest of the culture and traditions of their motherland.
Such project was entrusted to Belgian architect Paul Belau, also the author of the former Presidential Palace, today the Museu de la Revolución.
The first stone of the new Centro Gallego de La Habana was laid on December 8, 1907. It was a granite block brought, for the occasion, directly from the village of Parga in Galicia, Spain.
When it was inaugurated in 1915, it dazzled everyone with its ample dancing salon on the third floor, its exhibition halls and its theater, the most important one in Cuba during the next four decades.
Dedicated to the stage arts, the theater became the epicenter of excellent seasons for the enjoyment of Cuban society during the 1920s.
The best baritones, sopranos, tenors and contraltos in the world performed on this stage. Among them were Italians Guido Ciccolini, Lucrecia Bori, Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso; Spanish guitar player Andrés Segovia; French actress Sarah Bernhardt; Russian musician Sergey Rachmaninoff; Polish-American musician Arthur Rubinstein, as well as Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova.
It has been said that in addition to lucrative contracts, invited guests also came to verify the characteristics of the center, whose acoustics were said to be surpassed only by those of La Scala in Milan and the Vienna Opera House.
The then so-called Teatro Nacional del Centro Gallego de La Habana profited from the characteristics of a theater previously located in the same place.
That construction was Teatro Tacón, which since its foundation in 1838 until it closed was the largest and most prominent cultural center of Spanish Cuba.
Tacón was among the best theaters in the world, with seating capacity for more than 2,000 persons, including 90 boxes, 552 stalls, 112 seats, 601 places in the gallery and 602 in the so-called gods or claque.
The builders of Centro Gallego respected the design of the old theater up to the smallest detail, which ensured excellent quality that was later evidenced when it became the main venue of the Cuban National Ballet and stage where that prestigious company presents its annual seasons.
Translated by Olimpia Esperanza Sigarroa Santamarina
Revised by Susana Hurlich