jueves, noviembre 29, 2007

The Colón in deep trouble

Since 1998 the Teatro Colón has gone through difficult times, marked by grave conflicts that have sometimes interrupted the season, such as the feud over the non-payment of rentals of musical scores, or the labor strikes late in 2005, or the scandals that ruined the Argerich Festival, and of course the tremendous impact of devaluation and of a perverse contracting system that doesn't allow hiring an artist with the at least three-year advance required by international conditions. Add to that the delay in the Master Plan of renovation that has kept the Colón closed since last November; now the confession is out: the Colón centenary in May 2008 will find the theatre still under intensive restoration, against all promises of the authorities; a very tentative date of reopening is October 2008. So, as Marcelo Lombardero had to do this year, the season should be offered in alternative venues. But the General Director designate, Dr. Horacio Sanguinetti, has already announced that there will be no season.

His rationale is simple: recently the Telerman Administration sent about 400 telegrams intimating retirement to Colón employees 65-years-old and older. Promptly the affected personnel has already sent writs of administrative action against the Government for gross unfairness, for their pensions will be quite low according to the old system. After the mentioned strikes, pensions were "whitened" ; up to then, as much as 60% of the theatre's salaries wasn't considered for the pensions. As you know, the absurd system in our country provides that only the salary of the last ten years is taken into consideration for the calculus of the pension (which leads to very unjust situations where a manager who made high contributions during decades but is fired at 55 and afterwards finds no job will get the lowest pension).

And that's the gist of the problem: all Colón employees between 56 and 65 years old and beyond are penalized because some or all of their work years will be in "black" and won't fully count for the pension. The Theatre's population is obviously too old; those 400 that were urged to retire are 65 and over, and should be pensioned off. But... an essential agreement after the strikes had been that those employees 56 to 65 and over would be included in a special compensation system to keep their income reasonable after retirement. And...nothing was done! So those 400 , as they come from all the personnel, affect with their absence the operative logistics. You can't have an orchestra with 30 less people .

There are solutions but Sanguinetti doesn't seem to contemplate them. In truth, the right way would have been to put in place the compensation system and then call for the covering of the vacant posts through adequate competitive contests , and this should have been done during the Ibarra and Telerman governments. Why did Telerman take such an irritative course just months away from the end of his mandate? A very moot point indeed. Was there an agreement with Mauricio Macri? In that case, why ?

Sanguinetti has simply closed down the shop. However, during many years there has been a much used expedient to cover vacancies: a limited-time contract. You certainly can find thirty competent dancers or choir singers, etc. That the total integration of the new people takes some time is true, and there will be signs of inexperience, but the season will be saved.

As is known, this year the operas were offered at the Coliseo, whose owners opened up the big pit that was left of the old building (torn down and rebuilt with completely new architecture in the Fifties), allowing for operas like "Elektra" to be played. The fact is that Marcelo Lombardero, the current Artistic Director, managed to put on an acceptable season, even with the limitations of that theatre (the stage isn't deep or large enough for big productions) and its dry acoustics (nevertheless, clear and strong). The Coliseo isn't ideal but it's the only option for the Colón (no other theatre has a big enough pit). But Sanguinetti won't have it, he prefers to discard the Coliseo and cancel the season. This is really lamentable, for the 2008 season was fully planned by Lombardero with dates reserved, opera titles decided upon and chosen casts with pre-contracts or letters of intention. Though these don't have the full force of a contract, they have to be honored if credibility is considered important. Those artists that now will have to find other places to perform will certainly have a jaundiced view of the Colón. Reputation matters.

Macri certainly hasn't been inspired in his cultural choices; having a good candidate, Ignacio Liprandi, for Minister of Culture (he had edited a campaign book, "Nuestra PROpuesta cultural", in which I collaborated with an article on the Colón), he dumped him for obscure reasons; tried to name Rodríguez Felder, whose published interviews provoked such rebuff that he too was eliminated; he finally chose Hernán Lombardi, whose special field is tourism, not culture. And Lombardi announced his cabinet, confirming Sanguinetti, but also naming a dreaded ex Director General of the Colón, Pablo Batalla, as "Secretario de Gestión Cultural". Sanguinetti has asked for the status of autarchy for the theatre, but until (and if) that happens he will remain under Lombardi and Batalla. No, things don't look good. Not good at all.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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