MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — Inside the Teatro Amazonas, the familiar chords of a signature aria from Bizet's "Carmen" resound among elaborate woodwork and Murano chandeliers. Outside, less than a half-kilometer away, the Rio Negro's inky waters flow toward the Amazon River, and flocks of raucous parrots settle into treetops for the night.
The Teatro Amazonas is the symbol of Manaus, a city carved out of the rainforest, still so remote it can only be reached by plane or boat even though it has grown to over 2 million inhabitants.
With Manaus playing host to four World Cup matches, the Belle Epoque gem a must-see for the 52,000 foreigners who flooded in for the tournament, including Sunday's match between the U.S. and Portugal.
The theater was a lavish vanity project of the rubber barons, whose plantations briefly catapulted Manaus into the ranks of the world's wealthiest cities in the late 19th century and whose history of opulence and neglect mirrors the metropolis' boom and bust fortunes.
"I came here for the first time in 2009," said Cristina Gallardo-Domas, the Chilean-born soprano who recently played the title role in "Carmen" to the packed, 689-seat house here. "It was like discovering a diamond in the Amazon rain forest."
A legislator initially proposed the theater in 1881, toward the start of the rubber boom. Ground was broken in 1884, but construction dragged on for 12 years because of disputes with contractors.
Only the finest materials were used — marble and Murano glass ferried in from Italy, steel from Britain and bronze from Belgium. The Brazilian flag-themed green, yellow and blue tiles on the dome were sourced in France's Alsace region. The mosaic sidewalks surrounding the building — the same graphic black-and-white wave pattern famous on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach — were made from stones brought from Portugal. (A thick layer of local rubber covered the mosaic-embellished driveway to muffle the clanking of passing carriages.) Even the wood, culled from Amazon trees, was shipped back and forth to Europe for processing.