The theatre was constructed in the Arenal neighbourhood of Sevilla, on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, the hub of the city’s military and port activities between 1503 and 1680. It was from here that the annual fleets set sail and returned on the established trading routes of the Americas and the Philippines.
This is the historical context which served as the stage setting of the beautiful and romantic city of Sevilla, the location of more than 150 operas, staring characters of the likes of Figaro, Carmen or Don Giovanni. Their marvellous universality and mythical significance has made Sevilla a legendary operatic set of such magnitude that it received the international title "City of the Opera ".
The Teatro de la Maestranza is located in the historic and universal centre of Sevilla. On her streets and squares are monuments that bear the insignia of World Heritage buildings: the Cathedral and Giralda, the Real Alcázar and the Archivo General de Indias. It is also the urban framework where the first circumnavigation of the world began and ended. Magellan led the expedition in 1519 and four years later, Elcano completed it -dropping anchor only meters away from the site of the Teatro de la Maestranza-, an odyssey which changed the perspective of our planet and civilization forever.
The theatre was built on the site of a military barracks called the Maestranza de Artillería, established by Spanish king Phillip II in 1587. The Teatro de la Maestranza took its name from this military institution and active foundry which is located in a frequented area of the city. It respects the 19th century neoclassical façade as its main entrance.
The area around the Teatro de la Maestranza is alive with buildings and institutions which combine architectural beauty, historic importance and a source of inspiration for writers, composers and painters. The Torre del Oro, the Casa de la Moneda or the Cathedral of the Santa Caridad. In an imaginary Sevilla one finds characters and stories like the cigarette girl Carmen between the cigarette factory (Fábrica de Tabacos) and the bull ring (Plaza de Toros). Or the figure of Don Juan transformed into Don Giovanni; his historical origins can be found in someone like Miguel de Mañara whose statue is in the gardens next to the Teatro de la Maestranza. Or the barber Figaro whose many adventures led him down the streets of 19th century Sevilla, a place that continues to enchant everyone as the romantic and passionate city which inspired Rossini two centuries ago.
The construction of the Teatro de la Maestranza had its beginnings in a public competition organised by the Diputación de Sevilla in 1986. This public entity, owner of the site of a former military barracks, the Maestranza de Artillería, wanted to equip the city with an all-encompassing cultural venue to include a polyvalent auditorium, exhibition halls and a document resource centre for study, production and cultural research.
The winning project was designed by architects Aurelio del Pozo and Luis Marín: it incorporated the existing façade of the 19th century barracks as the portico of the main structure corresponding to the auditorium, a cylinder topped by a rounded dome. The area for cultural resources was distributed around a central public patio. The space and proportions were adapted with respect and complementarity to the surrounding area.
In collaboration with, and in order to equip this grand cultural setting, the Diputacion was joined in the endeavour by the Ministry of Culture, the Junta de Andalucía (regional government) and the City Hall. The work began on February 10, 1987 with a budget of about 1.600 million pesetas (an equivalent of 9, 6 million euros).
In mid 1988, the Sociedad Estatal Expo ‘92 focused its attention on the project under construction and prioritised its function as a theatre with an opera programme linked to the six month celebration of the 1992 World’s Fair -Exposición Universal de Sevilla. The architects adapted the original plans to enlarge the space beyond that of an auditorium for concerts and recitals. Now it would also be possible to stage full opera performances. The configuration of the acoustics was done with great care and it is this aspect of the project that received a standing ovation. Since the theatre opened, the sound has been acclaimed as ideal in the emission and reception of direct sound for artists and audience alike. Aurelio del Pozo and Luis Marín sought the expert acoustical advice of Professor Lothar Cremer, co-designer of the acoustics for the Berlin Philharmonie. They found the ideal reverberation time and optimum conditions to receive both direct and reflected sound for a 1.800 hall capacity with a forthcoming volume of 20,000 m3.
Having resolved this crucial aspect, the rest of the hall and the wood structure that covers was put in place: the convex forms, truncated levels, the side terraces, the large theatre chandelier as an acoustic flower, the “Carmen” seats created by Aurelio del Pozo. All the materials used, the insulation, the acoustic reflectors, the decoration and furnishings, came together to combine functionality with aesthetics. This enhances the spectator experience because there is a full view of the stage and perception of sound from any seat in the house.
"An immense theatre in every sense of the word. Especially because of its impressive technical attributes at the service of an artistic objective."
José Carlos Plaza
"A stage of more than sufficient dimensions, good acoustics and an audience that communicates all the warmth, affection and admiration to which any artist can aspire."
The successful supply and demand binomial of opera performance as the axis of the Teatro de la Maestranza along with its status as the principal motor behind these events in Sevilla, was cemented with a renovation of the building to remove the underused exhibition areas. As a result, the scenic space was enlarged and the most up to date technology was put in place. The budget amounted to 10, 3 million euros with its cost defrayed by the Ministry of Culture, Junta de Andalucía (regional government), City Hall of Sevilla and the Diputación de Sevilla. The refurbishment took place between 2005 and 2007. To ensure the theatre did not have to cancel or change any of its cultural activity throughout this period, particular advantage was taken of the summer months so that season programming remained unaltered.
The structural change is inappreciable at first sight for anyone who comes in the front entrance to sit in the main hall. However, behind the stage curtain the Maestranza was completely transformed. The enlargement of the theatre, also designed by Aurelio del Pozo, added 4.500 square metres, 16 metres more depth to the stage and a large backstage area of 800 square metres. The scenic space was equipped with the latest technology, highlighted by sliding horizontal platform machinery made up of four carts each weighing 8.000 kilos that can be manoeuvred vertically and lowered to 4 metres. These also travel sideways to move scenery quickly and silently with a system of pinions or zippers that is extraordinarily precise in fitting together, supporting a weight of up to 14 tons in motion and 28 tons at ease, with just a 2 millimetre margin of error.
All of this makes it possible to work with two stage productions simultaneously at the Teatro de la Maestranza; it also means that a spectacle can be performed for the audience while another show is in rehearsal.