Before we start talking about the Arriaga Theatre, let us tell you a couple of things about the musician to whom it is dedicated.
The artist, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, was only nineteen years old when he passed away, and that’s all he needed to deserve that buildings like this bear his name. This fact may give you an idea of the genius that Juan Crisóstomo was, and the reasons that made him known as the “Spanish Mozart”.
It turns out that Arriaga was as precocious as the one from Salzburg and, like him, he composed his first opera at the age of thirteen. But the coincidences do not end there: Amadeus was born on January 27, 1756, and the man from Bilbao saw the light for the first time on the same date, but fifty years later.
It almost seemed like destiny that the parallels between the two, also came, to premature death. But while Mozart reached the age of thirty-five, tuberculosis took Arriaga in 1826, a few days before he turned twenty.
Throughout just two decades he had time to amaze the world as a violinist when he was barely two feet tall; to go to Paris to study as a teenager; to leave Cherubini flabbergasted over there; to compose a handful of Romantic works, and finally, to get sick with a lung infection together with the exhaustion caused by his hectic agenda.
A great character, with an intense and dramatic biography, the perfect one to name a theatre. That must have been the opinion of the Bilbao bourgeoisie who had plenty of money at the end of the nineteenth century and wanted to build in their city large and sophisticated buildings that imitated those of the French capital.
It cannot be said that in this case, they left it short: the Arriaga Theatre, designed by Joaquín Recoba and inaugurated in 1890, is a beautiful Neo-Baroque construction, very appropriate to achieve that grandiose effect that the promoters sought. It remains to this day with few variations, but does not mean that nothing has happened: without going any further, the fire of 1914 or the well-known floods of 1983 left their marks on it.
Things also happened in its interior, but of another kind. Much water has flowed under the bridge since the foundation, in 1902, of the Club of the Twelve. The members were rich people of Bilbao with money, desire for fun and a bit eccentric. They had to participate in every event that the city offered. So the full season ticket to the Arriaga Theatre was mandatory.
The Club of the Twelve charged its members twelve pesetas a year and had a regulation with twelve articles. And nobody was allowed to set foot in their private box, which had been decorated with a carpet, a couch and spittoon containers to make them feel as good as at home.