The inauguration of the Cervantes on September 5, 1921, had a double significance. On the one hand, for the country, the event had exceptional coverage by the Buenos Aires press. On the other hand, it was the crystallization of the most desired dream of the Spanish actress María Guerrero and her husband Fernando Díaz de Mendoza, a couple who not only committed their will and all their energy, but also their personal fortune to carry out the project of building in Buenos Aires the great theater.
María Guerrero was an actress, stage director, teacher of artists and inspiring muse of the playwrights of her time. She arrived for the first time in Buenos Aires in 1897, heading the company that she directed with her husband.
She was 30 years old and had a name that was associated with the renewal of dramatic and performing art in Spain, where the public loved her. And the recognition of the Argentine public was no less. The Guerrero-Diaz de Mendoza company or Teatro de la Princesa de Madrid, which Guerrero and her husband directed, quickly consolidated its prestige in Buenos Aires. During the first decade of the 20th century, the now-defunct Odeón theater awaited her every year for the presentation of the extensive repertoire that she already knew to the applause of the Spanish public.
The newspapers and magazines of the time could not stop praising María Guerrero's presentations: “Her admirable temperament, her vast artistic culture, her impeccable diction…”. Not only in the theater, but also in the salons and in the select gatherings of our social world, the now familiar traits of the gentle artist are intimately welcomed and celebrated: her spiritual conversation, her very Castilian grace, her distinguished bearing, in short. , its culture of high taste.”
In 1918, the newspapers announced the construction of the Guerrero-Díaz de Mendoza couple's theater on the land on the corner of Libertad and Córdoba. Both actors launched the company with few resources, but even committed the king of Spain so that the entire country would work without conditions.
Ten Spanish cities worked for the sumptuous theater: from Valencia, tiles and damasks; from Tarragona, the red tiles for the floor; from Ronda, the doors of the boxes copied from an old sacristy; from Seville, the patio seats, bargueños, mirrors, benches, bars, hardware, tiles; from Lucena, chandeliers, lamps, lanterns; from Barcelona, the fresco painting for the theater ceiling, from Madrid, the curtains, tapestries and the mouth curtain, a true work of tapestry that represented the coat of arms of the city of Buenos Aires embroidered in silk and gold.
Living in a small sector of that building under construction, they invested all their savings, loans and voluntary contributions from the prestigious social, financial and artistic circles of Buenos Aires. The couple Guerrero and Díaz de Mendoza - along with their three children Fernando, Carlos and María, who were also part of the company - built that long-awaited theater which they decided to call Teatro Cervantes, in homage to the mentor of the ingenious gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha.
The design and execution of the works was in charge of the architects Aranda and Repetto who, together with Guerrero, agreed that the façade of the building would reproduce in all the details that of the University of Alcalá de Henares, in the Renaissance style. and plateresque columns.
Imposing and elegant, the work took shape until finally, on September 5, 1921, it was inaugurated with great splendor and with Mrs. Guerrero performing “La dama boba” by Lope de Vega, a piece that had marked so many transcendent moments of his life. The Cervantes Theater was another act of love for the theater of this woman who had given her life to the stage.
The main hall was created to be the true heart of the theater. It has the design of the classic theater in the shape of a horseshoe and currently has a capacity for 870 spectators in total, distributed in a stall for 400 people and five levels alternating low, balcony and high boxes, the gathering, the paradise and the bar. That heart today is called Sala María Guerrero.
From the time it opened its doors until 1926, the Theater was pure splendor. It had a repertoire that included Spanish, classical and contemporary European authors, as well as works by local authors. English, French, Russian, German, and Italian companies participated and filled the halls with staging of dramatic works, classical symphonies, benefit festivals, concerts with choirs, orchestra, and closing dance. In addition, classical music concerts were broadcast on the radio, the technological novelty of the time.
In parallel, from 1920 onwards, the national theater flourished, with local companies beginning their first tours of Europe and Latin America.
The María Guerrero-Díaz de Mendoza company was not only in charge of the theater's logistics but also premiered its works, especially during the first three years, since at the end of 1925 an irreversible economic crisis was triggered. From 1925 to 1927, only two national companies performed in the Cervantes.
The high maintenance costs and poor administrative management of Fernando Díaz de Mendoza led to heavy debt. In 1926, when the debt reached a million-dollar sum, the overwhelmed husband and wife who owned the Cervantes felt they had no choice but to auction off the building at public auction.
The press at the time anticipated that the Cervantes would become a casino and cabaret. Among María and Fernando's friends, the Argentine author Enrique García Velloso stood out, who, at that time, held the position of vice director of the Conservatory. Disturbed by the rumors, García Velloso intervened and raised the possibility of converting the Cervantes into the headquarters of the official theater.
This motion was supported by artists and people linked to the theater who requested an audience with the President of the Nation Marcelo T. de Alvear to promote the acquisition of the Theater by the government.
Thus, by decree of July 1924, the then President of the Republic created the National Conservatory of Music and Declamation. The following year, the National Commission of Fine Arts studied how to give the country an official theater that would also be the logical setting for future students of the Conservatory. To crystallize the project, García Velloso raised the possibility of immediately achieving the building for the official theater.
On July 16, 1926, the Banco Hipotecario Nacional sold the Teatro Cervantes at public auction and the theater was acquired by Banco Nación. Until Congress approves the purchase contract for the Cervantes Theater, Banco Nación leases the theater for five years to the government. From there, all the classes of the National Conservatory, music, dance and performing arts, are taught at the Cervantes.
In 1932 the State canceled the debt to Banco Nación for the purchase of the Cervantes Theater. This is how the Cervantes Theater becomes national heritage.
In 1933, the creation of the National Comedy Theater was established by law and the Cervantes Theater was designated for its operation, under the authority of the National Cultural Commission, created, in turn, by the same law. It would be two years, however, until the objective was realized. In fact, with Matías Sánchez Sorondo being president of the National Culture Commission, the actor and director Antonio Cunill Cabanellas was entrusted with the organization and direction of the Comedy.
Parallel to this work, Cunill founded the current National Institute of Theater Studies. He inaugurated a Theater Museum in the right wing of the entrance hall to the Cervantes, and laid the foundations for the Theater Archive and the Institute Library.
In 1941 Cunill Cabanellas resigned from the Comedia Nacional. The brilliance of Comedy continued for a time under the successive directions of Armando Discépolo, Elías Alippi and Enrique De Rosas, who closed a golden five-year period in the history of Argentine theatrical spectacle.
Claudio Martínez Paiva, Eduardo Suárez Danero, Roberto Vagni, José María Fernández Unsain, Alberto Vaccarezza and Pedro Aleandro were the successive directors until 1955, the year in which there was no official season, since in December 1954 the executive branch abolished the National Commission by decree. of Culture chaired by Cátulo Castillo.
On August 10, 1961, a fire destroyed a large part of the Cervantes Theater facilities. Although the loss was not total thanks to the intervention of technical secretary Víctor Roo, who quickly activated the security curtain, the damage was very great. The Ministry of Education and Justice then approved the reconstruction and remodeling of the theater. The works were carried out on an area of more than ten thousand square meters and also included the construction of a building on Córdoba Avenue in a single block of 17 floors (3 basements, ground floor and 13 upper floors) in which they were incorporated the new stage of greater dimensions and height than the original, pits, grills, workshops, rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, warehouses and offices for the administration.
The Cervantes Theater was reopened in 1968. From that moment and for almost a period of almost three decades, the seasons had a heterogeneous theatrical production. By the way, the theater was not excluded from the political ups and downs of the country and obviously felt the weight of the dictatorships. However, prestigious directors and casts prevailed on their stages despite the obstacles. The programming privileged national authors but included works from the universal repertoire.
On January 1, 1997, when the playwright Osvaldo Dragún was director of the Cervantes, autarky was granted to the theater by decree. It came into effect on January 1, 1997. This was a long-awaited achievement or demand, for which people of culture had fought for a long time, especially in recent years through the Argentine Association of Actors. The voices and claims of the people of culture found a response through the sanction of a Theater Law that the country deserved and so that, finally, Cervantes would be relieved of so many bureaucratic aspects of public administration. Although the Cervantes continues to depend on the Presidency of the Nation, through the Ministry of Culture, since 1997 it has enjoyed greater independence to manage its resources and of course, to define the artistic criteria to follow.