Opulent and dramatic, the Bellas Artes is the masterpiece of theaters in this architecturally rich city. The exterior is early-20th-century Art Nouveau, built during the Porfiriato and covered in Italian Carrara marble. Inside it's completely 1930s Art Deco. Since construction began in 1904, the theater (which opened in 1934) has sunk some 4m (13 ft.) into the soft belly of Lake Texcoco. The Palacio is the work of several masters: Italian architect Adamo Boari, who made the original plans; Antonio Muñoz and Federico Mariscal, who modified his plans considerably; and Mexican painter Gerardo Murillo ("Doctor Atl"), who designed the fabulous Art Nouveau glass curtain that was constructed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the Tiffany Studios of New York. Made from nearly a million iridescent pieces of colored glass, the curtain portrays the Valley of Mexico, with its two great volcanoes. You can see the curtain before important performances at the theater and on Sunday mornings.

In addition to being a concert hall, the theater houses permanent and traveling art shows, most notably the Ballet Folklorico (which performs here several nights a week most months of the year). On the third level are famous murals by Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. The controversial Rivera mural Man in Control of His Universe was commissioned in 1933 for Rockefeller Center in New York City. He completed the work there just as you see it: A giant vacuum sucks up the riches of the Earth to feed the factories of callous, card-playing, hard-drinking white capitalist thugs -- John D. Rockefeller himself among them -- while all races of noble workers of the Earth rally behind the red flag of socialism and its standard-bearer, Lenin. Needless to say, the Rockefellers weren't so keen on the new purchase. Much to their discredit, they had it painted over and destroyed. Rivera duplicated the mural here as Man at the Crossing of the Ways, to preserve it.

Warning: Avoid taxis parked in front of the Bellas Artes Theater, and call for a radio taxi instead.

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