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Who was the person credited with the concept of a world's fair?

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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow


This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
                                   
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La Belle Epoque Comes Alive at
Mexico City’s Opera House

by
Bob Brooke

 

Ahhhhhhhhh! La Opera. Just the sound of the words rolling off my tongue create images of one of Mexico City’s most exciting periods, La Belle Epoque. Part café, part former haunt of opera lovers, part historical landmark, La Opera Bar represents the quintessential example of what it was like to live in Mexico City during the Belle Epoque period at the turn of the 20th Century.



Ensconced in a soft red velvet upholstered booth, surrounded by rich baroque-style paneling and mementos of an earlier day, I felt the spirits of generals, politicians, and singers who frequented the bar in its heyday. Singers and patrons would come down to the bar after the opera at the Bellas Artes and locals would sing along to famous arias. My waiter pointed to a bullet hole in the ceiling above me. It seems Pancho Villa, happy that the revolution overthrew Porfirio Diaz, rode into the bar on his horse and fired a shot into the ceiling.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes or Palace of Fine Arts just up the street is Mexico City’s premier opera house. Noted for both its extravagant Beaux Arts exterior, covered in imported Italian Carrara white marble, and its murals by Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, it’s a showplace even today.



The Bellas Artes is a true expression of the Porfiriada, the 30-year period in the late 19th and early 20th century when dictator Porfirio Diaz ruled the country with an iron hand. Initially conceived as the National Theater and a superior example of turn-of-the-century eclecticism, it’s heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau style. Diaz fell in love with Victorian style through his close association and friendship with Queen Victoria of England. He wanted his country to be as sophisticated as Europe and imitated its art, style, and customs. Following this, he ordered plans for a new Teatro Nacional or National Theater laid out by Italian architect Adamo Boari using state-of-the-art technology. Construction of the new building began on October 1, 1904.

But although construction began in 1904 and Boari scheduled its completion by 1908, it languished due to the political struggles within the Mexico and problems with Mexico City's muddy soil–the entire city stands on an old lake bed—which led to the gradual subsidence of the building. Diaz, himself, chose the construction site at one end of Alameda Park because of its location at the center of the city’s financial and hotel district. He wanted the building to face the tallest in the city while still being next to an elegant park promenade. But Diaz’s choice of site wasn’t good. Indeed, the weight of the building is so massive that it has been sinking a few centimeters yearly since its completion.

The Mexican Revolution in 1910 further complicated the situation. Frustrated at not being able to finish the project, Boari left Mexico in 1916 and construction virtually stopped until 1932, when work resumed under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal, one of Boari’s students, who completed the interior in 1934 using Art Deco motifs in 1934. Mariscal enlisted the help of painter Diego Rivera, who had recently been fired by the Rockefellers for a mural at Rockefeller Center that included an image of Lenin.When Rivera refused to remove Lenin, Rockefeller cancelled his commission and had the mural destroyed. So Rivera repainted it a smaller scale at the Palacio and renamed it "Man, Controller of the Universe."



The works of some of Mexico’s most famous muralists—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—grace the walls of the Belles Artes’ lofty marble interior. Tiffany Studios of New York designed the theater’s amazing stained-glass curtain depicting the volcanoes surrounding the city. Today, the spectacular edifice is also the home of the famous Ballet Folklorico and the Mexican Symphony and Opera. The Mexican Government didn’t complete the square in front of the Belles Artes, with its gardens and pegasus statues designed by Boari, until 1994.

Today, the theatre presents classical music, opera and dance, notably the "Baile Folklórico". A distinctive feature of the theatre is its stained glass curtain depicting a volcano and the valley of Mexico. It is the home of Mexico's National Symphony Orchestra, the Bellas Artes Orchestra, the Bellas Artes Chamber Orchestra, the National Dance Company, and the Bellas Artes Opera.

Maria Callas sang in several productions at the Palacio early in her career, and recordings exist of several of her performances here. Other opera greats who have performed and/or sang there include Plácido Domingo, Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Jessye Norman. Most of the world's great orchestras and dance companies have also performed there, including the New York, Vienna, Israel, Moscow, London and Royal Phiharmonics; the Philadelphia, Paris, Dresden Staatskapelle, and the French, Spanish and Chinese National Orchestras; the Montreal and Dallas Symphonies; the American Ballet Theatre, the English National Ballet, the Australian National Ballet, the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets; among others.

Today, cleaned and restored, it’s bright white exterior gleaming in the sun, its interior surfaces shining brightly, the Bellas Artes, is truly a monument to the beauty of art.

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