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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters Life!) - Argentina's famed Teatro Colon, one of the world's great opera houses, reopened on Monday after a three-year restoration of the country's leading cultural gem.
The ornate, 2,700-seat Colon was built in 1908 modeled after Milan's La Scala and is world renowned for its natural acoustics. The theater raised its curtains again as Argentina holds bicentennial celebrations.
"We have recovered our country's cultural icon. Today the Colon is reopening with all its splendor," said Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri.
But the gala inauguration was overshadowed by politics. President Cristina Fernandez did attend the celebration.
Fernandez announced she would stay away after a recent dispute with Macri, a leading government opponent who publicly criticized her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.
The two men are expected to be among the top candidates in presidential elections slated for next year.
The restoration effort focused on returning the Colon -- home to a treasure of French stained glass and Italian pink marble stairwells -- to its glory days.
The theater, which hosts opera and ballet performances, first opened when Argentina was among the world's 10 wealthiest nations during the early 1900s. Since then, the country has struggled to recover from repeated bouts of economic crises.
The Colon's makeover included restoring the theater's exterior, some of its original floors and chandeliers and the installation of natural air-conditioning system among other changes.
Thousands of Argentines crowded outside the theater ahead of the reopening, watching a 3D projection film shown on a side of the building that showed key moments and performances in the Colon's history.
Writing by Kevin Gray, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith