Public institutions such as the Colón Theatre depend on functionaries that may or may not have the savvy to make good choices in cultural matters. Mauricio Macri is a prime example of inadequacy: apart from naming Lombardi as Minister of Culture, he went wrong with his three choices for Colón Director: the nullity of Horacio Sanguinetti, the very mixed balance of Pedro Pablo García Caffi´s six years, and now the jump into the abyss, the recently chosen Darío Lopérfido.
I will attempt in these paragraphs to sketch succinctly the results of GC´s tenure, and afterwards give a short possible prospective on DL.
GC started very wrongly, and the culprit was as much GC as Macri himself, for what the Colón´s Director did about the personnel was on direct orders of the Chief of Government. For GC was told that he had to reduce 400 people from the total of about 1300, simply because 900 was the number at La Scala, and Macri after returning from Milan felt convinced that the Colón had too many people. He didn´t realize the deep differences between both institutions, or the fact that the current Scala has lost much prestige.
Arguably at the Colón some pruning had to be done, but only after a conscientious study; nothing of the sort happened: whole sections, even Administration (!) were eliminated; about 120 were transferred to hospitals (!) and the like, and the rest were left in a limbo. But those that were permanent members ("estables") couldn´t be fired without just cause, so they kept on getting their salaries, whilst the Colón had to contract new people in many areas, often less able than those transferred; the end result: chaos and greater costs.
It was the gravest attack on the personnel in the Colón´s long history. Many sued and generally won, some went back to the theatre, others had to look for new horizons. Those who remained found a heavy work atmosphere, with little dialogue and authoritarian leadership. It jelled into ill-advised strikes that cancelled performances and took the audience as hostage and it led to new suits, this time against the strikers, attacking labor immunity as well.
The two orchestras were still on strike when Plácido Domingo came to offer an open-air concert; his artistic stature allowed him to form an orchestra made up of members from four orchestras, including those from the Colón. When he was gone, the orchestras were promised a solution but what they got was heavy sanctions. The calm of submission followed and lasted years. Until late in 2014, when even SUTECBA (the municipal labor organisation, much more amenable than ATE, who had kept the embers burning) finally reacted, but this time with no strikes: placards with the inscription BASTA and SALARIOS DIGNOS. Was this a factor in the unexpected decision of GC to resign? Maybe.
GC is wrongly credited by some colleagues with the reopening of the Colón after its prolonged restauration. It wasn´t him but a team from Minister Chaín that brought it about, and it was partial: a lot remains undone. A good deal of the stage work is still being worked out at La Nube, an uncomfortably small atelier ni Belgrano. The library is still in containers since 2006, of the museum there is no notice, and a big block within the main building remains untouched (Chaín didn´t even include it in successive budgets).
The Ballet under Lidia Segni had its own troubles when both Segni and GC refused to comply with the demand for an adequate floor; the dancers went on strike until they got the required dancing floor. Afterwards things came slowly back to normality.
On the artistic side, there was good and bad. Opera: very low productivity (seven operas against the eighteen of the Sixties), uneven casts, some interesting programming choices and others merely excentric. And offbeat productions following European bad trends.
Ballet: it is currently at a decent level, but it needs much renovation of repertoire, especially the comeback of great Twentieth century choreographers and scores. Also, we should have important guest dancers.
Colón Contemporáneo: this has been a positive innovation, with valuable concerts of works by Xenakis, Ives, Nono and Berio. The Buenos Aires Philharmonic under the charismatic Enrique Arturo Diemecke fills the theatre and is playing very well, even if the programming can be bettered and there´s too much dominance from the Principal Conductor. Sunday free concerts with Argentine artists: certainly in the positive side. The Barenboim/Argerich marathon: an undoubted mediatic hit of high quality. There were other Grade-A recitals, such as those with András Schiff.
But there were also Charly García, Las Elegidas and Los Elegidos...and this year the presence of popular music that shouldn´t be at the Colón has been strengthened.
Now to Lopérfido. He was De la Rúa´s Culture Secretary both in our city and the Nation, with bad results. His control over the Colón in 1996-7-8 brings bitter memories to longstanding members of the institution. His tastes go to experimentation, as shown by the FIBA (Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires), theatre weeks filled with often extravagant offerings (he will continue at the helm), and he isn´t known for his operatic or classical music proficiency.
He says that in December the new Government will decide whether he stays or goes, and that he has two aims: to fulfill GC´s plans for 2015 (surely commendable) and plan the 2016 season. Salaries: wait for the "paritarias"(labor talks with the Government). Plenty of popular music added in 2015 plus synergies with the FIBA and the BAFICI.
He is married to Esmeralda Mitre and was a member of the "sushi group" of the Alianza; his designation is considered more political than artistic. I only hope that he will have a knowledgeable adviser.