São Carlos National Theatre (Teatro Nacional de São Carlos)

The Sāo Carlos National Theatre (or Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Portuguese) is an opera house and theatre in the Chiado district of Lisbon that plays host to a wide range of artistic events including classical music concerts, ballets, and opera. If you’ve always dreamed of attending one of these events and don’t know where to find such entertainment in Lisbon, this is the place! Now, let’s get dressed up in our finest clothes for the evening and bask in the elegance of this gorgeous opera house as we first take you back in history to learn how it all began.

São Carlos National Theatre, Photo by Becky Gillespie

History

The São Carlos National Theatre was never supposed to exist. On March 31, 1755, the Ópera do Tejo opened its doors to the public intending to be the main opera house of the city. Just over seven months later, on November 1, 1755, the Lisbon Earthquake destroyed most of the city including the new, luxurious opera house. Almost forty years later, the São Carlos National Theatre opened as its replacement on June 30, 1793.

The theatre was named after Prince Regent Dom João Carlos. Its design, inspired by La Scala in Milan, was the work of architect José da Costa e Silva. This venue quickly became a hub for Italian opera, drawing prestigious artists and composers.

In the 19th century, São Carlos faced challenges, including financial struggles and a devastating fire in 1836. Despite these setbacks, it was rebuilt and continued to flourish, hosting world-renowned performers. The theatre played a significant role in introducing Romanticism in Portugal and has maintained its reputation as a premier opera house.

The 20th century saw São Carlos adapting to changing artistic trends, incorporating modern operas and ballets into its repertoire. It underwent extensive renovations in the late 1940s, preserving its historical charm while updating its facilities. Today, São Carlos remains a symbol of Lisbon’s rich artistic heritage and continues to host a wide range of performances, from classical operas to contemporary productions.

Architecture

The São Carlos National Theatre is a prominent example of neoclassical architecture, showcasing the influence of the Italianate style. Commissioned by Queen Maria I, its façade is distinguished by six Ionic columns, supporting a triangular pediment, and flanked by two symmetrical wings. The building’s exterior is characterized by its balanced proportions and elegant simplicity, typical of neoclassical aesthetics.

Inside, the theatre features a sumptuous auditorium that can house around 1200 guests. Richly decorated with gold, blue, and ivory colors, it embodies a luxurious atmosphere and has beautifully painted ceilings. The horseshoe-shaped design, influenced by Italian opera houses, enhances acoustics, creating an exceptional auditory experience.

The theatre has undergone several renovations, the most significant in the early 20th century. These updates introduced modern amenities while preserving historical elements. There is a cloakroom and a bar where guests can order drinks during the intermission of a show.

Getting ready for an opera at the São Carlos National Theatre, Photo by Becky Gillespie

Visiting Times & Tickets

Times

Times vary depending on the day of the performance. Please check the showtimes. Generally, performances on weekdays start at 8:00 PM, Saturdays start at 6:30 PM, and Sundays start at 4:30 PM.

Tickets

Prices vary depending on the performance and section of the theater but generally vary between 25€ to 70€. The cheapest seats in the balcony section at the back of the theatre tend to sell out first, and the seats on the floor are usually some of the most expensive. If you want to treat yourself, go for one of the front seats on the floor or the right or left cabin seats.

To see the schedule for all upcoming shows at different cultural venues throughout the show, check here. To purchase tickets, click here.

Please note that there are no children or senior prices. All tickets cost the same per section of the theatre.

Seeing the ballet at São Carlos National Theatre, Photo by Becky Gillespie

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