Rio is welcoming the world to the Summer Olympics — and after months of negative news and setbacks, organizers for these games on Friday finally got to do what the city’s famous for: Throw a party, in the form of an hours-long Opening Ceremony.
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are headlining a show that’s heavy on samba drums and dancing, highlighting Brazil’s history and heritage. And the Parade of Nations kicked off with 207 delegations following their flag-bearers into Rio’s venerable Maracana Stadium.
In keeping with the Opening Ceremony’s pro-environmental message, athletes are carrying tree seeds into the arena, which they then deposit in a wall of small planter cartridges when they reach their designation spot on the stage. If all goes to plan, the seeds will later make up the Athletes’ Forest in the “Radical Park” – site of BMX, mountain-biking, and whitewater — in Deodoro.
We’re live-blogging the Opening Ceremony here, which started at 8 p.m. local time in Brazil (which is one hour ahead of Eastern Time). Because of NBC’s decision to broadcast the show on a time-delay, our readers on the East Coast in the U.S. won’t see what we’re seeing here in Rio until an hour later. The delay will be even longer for audiences across the country.
11:57 p.m. BRT: A Kinetic Sculpture Fans The Olympic Flame
With the Olympic flame lit, a gleaming fan sculpture wafts the wind toward it in hypnotic waves. It’s the work of American artist Anthony Howe, who spent nearly a year working on the sculpture at his studio in Orcas Island, Wash.
11:50 p.m. BRT: Kuerten Enters The Arena; De Lima Lights Flame
Former world No. 1 tennis player Gustavo Kuerten is clearly emotional as he brings the Olympic flame into the stadium. He then hands off to Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Hortencia Marcari — and then the torch goes to Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, the beloved marathon runner who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
Famously, de Lima had been leading that Olympic race — but he was accosted by a spectator, causing him to finish third. His spirits weren’t dampened — he blew kisses and waved to the crowd as he ran to the finish line, sometimes holding his arms out as if he were soaring above it all.
11:43 p.m. BRT: Back To The Samba
After a rasher of speeches, we were brought back to life with Gilberto Gil performing, and Anitta singing “Sandália de Prata” (Silvered Sandal), by Ary Barroso.
This section of the program was started with drummer Wilson das Neves playing a rhythm on a little matchbox as a talented dancer whom the program identifies only as “an 8-year-old boy” performs.
Caetano Veloso then takes the stage, after an entrance by drummers from the 12 Baterias of the Samba Schools. Veloso then sings — and the drumming hits a new peak.
11:31 p.m. BRT: Olympic Flag Is Delivered
Six accomplished athletes carry the flag into the arena. They are:
“Marta Vieira (Football), Ellen Gracie (First woman appointed to the Supreme Court in Brazil), Sandra Pires Tavares (Beach volleyball), Oscar Schmidt (Basketball), Joaquim Cruz (Athletics), Rosa Celia Pimentel (Cardiologist and founder of the Pró-Criança hospital), Torben Grael (Sailing), Emanuel Rego (Beach volleyball).”
That’s followed by the Olympic anthem.
11:26 p.m. BRT: Brazil’s Acting Leader Speaks
In a short speech that saw his voice competing with jeers by the end, Brazil’s Acting President Michel Temer has declared Rio’s Summer Games to be open. We’ll note that Temer did not appear earlier in the program, as had been anticipated.
11:22 p.m. BRT: Doves, And A New Award
After a brief video about his life, Kipchoge Keino, 72 — a former Olympian who won two gold medals and is now the chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee, runs onto the stage along with a group of children who are carrying small dove kites. Keino is the first-ever winner of the Olympic Laurel award.
The organizers explain about the kites: “As they are an integral part of Rio’s landscapes, kites were chosen to represent our dove of peace. 200 kites were taken from Rio de Janeiro to Kenya and given to children who had never played with kites before. Needless to say, they loved them.”
11:15 p.m. BRT: Thomas Bach, Head Of The IOC
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, speaks about the Olympic movement and the importance of equality. He drew the largest cheer of his speech by mentioning the refugee team.
11:03 p.m. BRT: Rio 2016 President Speaks
“We welcome you in Rio, the Olympic city,” says Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 Committee. He was announced along with Thomas Bach.
“Brazil opens the world with open arms,” Nuzman says.
He adds, “I’m the proudest man alive” — and he repeats it, drawing a loud cheer.
“These are your games,” Nuzman says, “the first in South America.”
Nuzman, we’ll add, is speaking in both English and Portuguese.
At the end of his speech — around 7 minutes after he began — Nuzman introduced Bach and caused a lighter moment with a short-lived flub, calling Bach a man “who always believed in the sex — success — of the Olympic movement.”
10:58 p.m. BRT: That’s The Athletes; Now It’s Tree (Ring) Time
Mirrored boxes housing the tree seeds the international athletes had gathered were assembled into the Olympic rings — which were then then opened to show a tiny forest of green trees, which THEN exploded upward into confetti. Fireworks followed, again evoking the famous rings.
10:52 p.m. BRT: The Party Is On
Brazil’s team is out on the floor, and the crowd is loving it, in more ways than one: Even those who might be cheering for other nations are ecstatic to hear music that’s different from the medley of pop hits that had become a bit monotonous.
That’s a memory now. All is forgiven. Dressed in blue blazers, the athletes and staff are dancing as a long remix of the classic 1939 song “Aquarela do Brasil” — known to many English-speakers simply as “Brazil” — plays. The crowd treats it like an anthem, which of course, it is.
10:45 p.m. BRT: The Refugee Team
Neither last nor least, the Olympic Team of Refugees emerges to huge cheers, some of the loudest of the night. The UN’s Ban Ki-Moon and the IOC’s Thomas Bach stand and applaud.
As the refugees cross into the arena, a chant of Bra-sil! Bra-sil! breaks out. The home team is next.
10:45 p.m. BRT: Glad To Be Here: Uganda And Uruguay
The long wait to emerge was not enough to lull these delegations to sleep. They’re hitting the floor like they’ve been waiting to get into a special club — which, in many senses, they have.
10:35 p.m. BRT: The Cauldron, And Its Igniter
When the cauldron is finally lit, don’t expect a blaze: organizers say it will be a “hybrid cauldron” that is “intentionally small and low emission.” As for who will light it — that’s a mystery.
Early reports had suggested Pele — but after the soccer star said his health would keep him from the honor, local media now say it might be Gustavo Kuerten, the curly-haired tennis player who won three French Open titles from 1997 to 2001 and won fans with his bright personality — and his bright on-court clothes.
10:25 BRT: American Samoa Breaks Out A Move
As the American Samoa delegation enters the arena, the motion stops for a brief moment — one of its members is showing off some dance moves. That came after he lay on the ground, where a woman put a foot on his back. Oddly enough, it seems normal in this colorful parade, into which we’re now an hour and a half.
10:20 BRT: Huge Roar For Portugal
A loud roar of approval greeted Portugal as that nation’s delegation entered Maracana Stadium.
10:15 p.m. BRT: U.N. Chief Calls for Peace
These games are taking place in a time of unprecedented concern over international terrorism — and during the ceremony, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a video calling for a global truce during the Olympics.
9:34 p.m. BRT: Team USA Enters Maracana
Led by flag-bearer Michael Phelps, the 555-athlete U.S. delegation enters Maracana Stadium, wearing blue blazers and striped shirts. The contingent, the largest of any country at the games, seemed to stretch from one side of the large stage to the other.
The American athletes enter right after Micronesia — the Estados Federados da Micronésia, in the host country’s Portuguese — and Spain — Espanha.
9:15 p.m. BRT: Don’t Get Mixed Up: Some Alphabetical Guidance
Kazakhstan came out right after Qatar — in Portuguese, that’s Cazaquistão following Catar.
Chile followed soon after, getting a loud roar from the crowd.
9:09 p.m. BRT: Burkina Faso
We like what Burkina Faso wore tonight. With only five athletes in Rio, they may win the cool-per-capita contest. We are not surprised.
8:59 p.m. BRT: Independent Athletes
As usual at the Olympics, there are loud cheers for the independent athletes – there are nine at these games.
8:56 p.m. BRT: ‘Arabia Saudita’ Is In The House
We’ll remind you, all the countries are first announced in Portuguese. Saudi Arabia now enters the stadium, including their four female athletes. All told, they have nine.
Shortly after their arrival, loud cheers (and some other less friendly sounds) greeted the Argentine delegation.
8:50 p.m. BRT: Here Come The Athletes (!)
The stage has been cleared, and it seems the athletes will come out now — and here they are, led by a tricked-out florescent three-wheeled bicycle (if that makes sense) ridden by a smiling man.
As is customary at the Olympics, the first delegation out of the gate is that of Greece. Because they started the whole thing.
8:48 p.m. BRT: A Plant Sprouts On Stage
We hear the voice of Judi Dench reading a text about the miracle of a flower pushing its way into life. Her words are repeated in Portuguese as we see photos of people planting trees and other plants.
Dench and Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegrois are reading a poem: “A Flor e a Náusea” by Carlos Drumond de Andrade.
Then we see a young man who had been captivated by the plant pick it up and walk it across the stage.
8:44 p.m. BRT: Climate Change
Now the visuals — and speech — is devoted to talking about the Earth’s changing temperatures and the melting of huge ice deposits.
8:38 p.m. BRT: Pop, Youth, And The Favela
The music now pumps up into the sounds of young talents in Brazil, and the colors explode on the stage as dancers get moving again.
We’re hearing Ludmilla, 21, singing “Rap da Felicidade” (Happiness Rap), which organizers call “an anthem of the carioca [Rio native] favelas.” There’s also dancing by Christian Do Passinho, 13.
Then (we have to admit) we’ve lost our place a bit, because this is a spectacle.
Catching up: Elza Soares sang “Canto de Ossanha” by Baden Powel and Vinicius de Moraes, and Zeca Pagodinho and Marcelo D2 also sang.
We also glimpsed MC Soffia, 12 — in magenta braids — and rapper Karol Conka, in a segment devoted to empowerment.
And in a moving portion of the program, Jorge Ben played guitar as Regina Casé led the audience in dancing to the sound of “País Tropical.” Dancers filled the stage.
8:30 p.m. BRT: Building An Airplane – And Flying Away
An urban scene culminates in acrobats passing white blocks around to an area of the stage, which are then seemingly assembled into an airplane.
And in a nice bit of magic, that ends in a gent in old-fashioned clothes firing up the engine on a Wright Brothers-style plane.
All seems a bit confusing as the guy just keeps on flying. But then all seems OK – because now we see Tom Jobim, and we see his grandson Daniel Jobim at the piano, playing Jobim’s classic “Girl from Ipanema.”
The audience sings – and out walks Gisele Bundchen, wearing a silver dress that looks to our discerning eye like it was designed by Alexandre Herchcovitch.
The audience just keeps singing, as Bundchen walks toward an image of a smiling Tom Jobim projected on a building. And it’s a nice moment.
8:25 p.m. BRT: Building Blocks Of Modern Brazil
The geometric shapes now have right angles, and we’re seeing blocks pushed into an urban rooftop scene.
It all culminates in the impressive sight of buildings and homes on a mountainside, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Parkour acrobats then pounce around on the scene, dressed in what looks to be fuschia.
8:20 p.m. BRT: Machines And Slavery
Groups symbolizing the Africans who were brought to Brazil by force arrive.
As the official guide tells us, “Their trails show graphic patterns, reminding us that African culture is at the basis of everything we call ‘Brazilian.'”
And as NPR’s Melissa Block has reported:
“It’s estimated 4 million enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil. That’s more than any country in the Americas; some 10 times the number of slaves brought to the United States. And Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888. It was the last country in the Americas to do so.”
They’re followed by two other groups, representing immigration from the Middle East and Asia.
8:15 p.m. BRT: Europeans Arrive In Ships
Acrobats simulate the arrival of three mechanical Caravels, where they meet indigenous people.
8:14 p.m. BRT: Green Forest, And Its Intricate Web Of Life
From the beginning of life we move into a sea of green, evoking the massive forests of ancient Brazil.
In a (very) cool effect, dancers who represent indigenous people hold onto hundreds of long elastic bands and perform native dances, forming intricate patterns and forming and reforming into groups.
8:10 p.m. BRT: The Waves — And Some Lightning
The stage floor is now transformed into the wash of an ocean’s waves breaking on the beach. Groups of white-clad dancer-puppeteers then “walk” a series of large stick-figured animals across the surface.
This is, the official guide tells us, a “recreation of the beginning of life,” with microorganisms in a piece by the video artist Susi Sie.
8:07 p.m. BRT: Brazil’s National Anthem
After an introduction by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, legendary (get used to that word) musician Paulinho da Viola plays (and sings) the national anthem on acoustic guitar, accompanied by the audience and a small string orchestra.
Some sample lyrics:
“Eternally lying in a splendid cradle,
By the sound of the sea and the light of the deep sky,
Thou shinest, O Brazil, garland of America,
Illuminated by the sun of the New World!
“Thy smiling, lovely fields have more flowers
Than the most elegant land abroad,
Our woods have more life,
Our life in thy bosom more love.
In what seems to be a break with the plan, Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer was not introduced, as NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro tells us. We’re expecting to see Temer later.
The shape of the stage was inspired by Burle Marx, the famed master landscape designer and artist who in 1970 completed Copacabana Beach’s trademark wavy pavement designs, and whose estate on the western outskirts of Rio is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8:05 p.m. BRT: Countdown And Then — Fireworks
Next up: An opening segment on three themes, from the “gambiarra” –organizers call it “the Brazilian talent for making something great out of almost nothing.” That idea was also cited by the Opening Ceremony’s directors this week, as they discussed “MacGyvering” — working with a budget that was a fraction of the amount spent to launch the last two Summer Olympics, in London and Beijing.
Dancers in the center of the space performed a countdown that was chanted by the audience. At the end, fireworks erupted.
8 p.m. BRT: And We’re Off!
As the live show begins, we watch a video that features beautiful aerial shots of the host city. We’re hearing bossa nova (“new wave”) music — “Aquele Abraço” by Gilberto Gil, sungy by Luiz Melodiaand. We’rewatching waves roll in on the beach.
Our original post continues:
The American team will be led into the arena by Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 22 medals, 18 of them gold. At age 31, he still holds seven world records.
More than 11,400 athletes will take part in these games. They’ll enter the stadium in the order of their delegation’s name in Portuguese — which means Team USA, with 555 athletes, will enter the stadium as Estados Unidos, placing the Americans toward the front half of the parade.
As is traditional with the Opening Ceremony, the identity of the final person to light the cauldron here in Rio has been shrouded in mystery.
Many expected Pele, the legendary soccer star, to be holding the torch at the end of its long journey. But Pele, 75, had hip surgery earlier this year and said he wouldn’t be able to take part in the Opening Ceremony.
“I hope that the Opening Ceremony will be a drug for depression in Brazil,” film director Fernando Meirelles said of the show in Rio de Janeiro.
Meirelles, one of the show’s three creative directors, is the director of City of God, the 2002 film that shares its name with a favela just five miles away from Rio’s new Olympic Park, as we reported in our preview of the show.
Soccer and a few other competitions have already begun in these games, but they’ll begin in earnest Saturday and will run until the day of the Closing Ceremony on Aug. 21.