'World's finest opera house' reopens after four years

The reopening of one of the world's leading opera houses helped to kick off Argentina's 200th birthday celebrations on Monday, as the curtain was raised at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for the first time in almost four years.

An audience of 2,700, including the presidents of Uruguay Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil, was treated to an elaborate programme of music and dance while images from the venue's history were projected on the walls.

The opera house, built in 1908 from a design inspired by La Scala in Milan, is reputed to have the world's finest acoustics, and has played host to almost every great performer of the past century, from Pavarotti and Maria Callas to Nijinsky and Nureyev. It temporarily closed in 2006 for a £60m facelift which ran several years and many millions over budget.

Much like the restoration, the venue's reopening didn't run entirely smoothly. Argentina's President, Cristina Kirchner, stayed away from the performance to prevent it being overshadowed by political posturing, after the capital's mayor, Mauricio Macri, announced that he would feel uncomfortable having to sit near her husband, the former president Nestor Kirchner. Mr Macri is planning to stand against Mrs Kirchner for the presidency next year.

Several other government representatives boycotted the evening in support of the Kirchners. They forfeited the chance to join the country's élite beneath the ornate venue's French stained-glass windows and pink Italian marble staircases, restored by more than 1,000 craftsmen.

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