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Historic Madrid opera house reopens after 72 years

After their 72-year silence, opera voices resounded again Saturday in Madrid's Teatro Real, reopened after a nine-year, $140 million renovation.

King Juan Carlos presided over the opening night gala, which also drew dozens of the country's politicians, including Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and cultural leaders.The 1,630-seat theater opened its season with an all-Spanish production of Manuel de Falla's "El Sombrero de Tres Picos" (The Three-cornered Hat) and "La Vida Breve" (The Short Life), starring tenor Jaime Aragall and soprano Maria Jose Montiel.

First opened as a theater in 1708, the Teatro Real's history has been marred by mishaps, mismanagement and several lengthy closures for renovation.

The building was last used as an opera house in 1925. It closed for repairs that same year. It reopened in 1966 as a symphony concert hall but was not considered fit for operas. It was closed again in 1988, when the Socialist government decided it was time Madrid had its own, proper opera theater.

The latest refurbishment project, aimed at putting Madrid back on the operatic map, cost more than four times the initial estimate and took five years longer than expected to complete.