viernes, enero 11, 2013

Money troubles curtail theatrical plans

            Lyric theatres are expensive by definition. In our country a full organisation -orchestra, choir, ballet, production- can only be supported by public funds. It´s an investment in culture, an obligation of good government. The European trend in recent years has been to attract private sponsors and convince them that sharing the total cost enhances their public image as benefactors of the arts. Foundations both at the Colón and the Argentino make a valuable effort but still their support is a small percentage of the total budget. Ticket sales and other commercial ventures (DVDs, CDs, radio) also do their part but the deficit is big, even with the huge Colón prices (those at the Argentino are quite low).

            Back in 2001 the economic crisis ran havoc with the Argentino: their international opera subscription series was scrapped midway and the subscribers never got their money back (in the following season they were given free tickets to compensate). This year there was no subscription, but the announced season was ambitious. However, by July it was clear that trouble was brewing, for the budgeted money wasn´t arriving.  A reprogramming meant the elimination of an opera, a ballet and a concert, affecting the rights of valuable artists, foreign and local. But even this wasn´t enough: in October we were told that Wagner´s "The Valkyrie" would be postponed for next year. And some weeks ago we had the stunning news: Alejo Pérez, the Argentino´s Musical Director and the best conductor of his generation, was resigning.

            Now more information has transpired, and it shows a disastrous mismanagement: mind you, NOT the fault of the Argentino´s Directors Leandro Iglesias and Marcelo Lombardero, not even of the Province´s Cultural Institute (who oversees the Argentino), but of the Provincial Finance Minister.  Pérez had expressed that he could no longer tolerate a situation of which he wasn´t responsable, the lack of payment since March of those players that are under contract (the regular staff touched their salary).

            Consider: the proposed  production budget for this year was 20 million pesos; as early as February, it was diminished to 15,5 million. But only 1,8 million had arrived by December 1st!   Now, reacting to the public scandal -for at long last the personnel made known its situation after showing great patience- the amount is 4,5, which is still less than 30% of the approved budget.

            Until June the President of the Cultural Institute was Juan Carlos D´Amico; in July Jorge Telerman took over. His recent statement smacks of a master of the absurd: "We went through a rough situation which, thanks to the responsibility and prudence of the Province´s Government, we have been able to solve". False: the Government ruined the Argentino´s season; and the situation is far from solved.  As Martín Bauer, Director of the Tacec (the experimental unit of the theatre), said: "It would be a disrespect to announce next season when this year´s salaries aren´t paid yet".

            Telerman promised that in January  what remains unsolved of "the 2012 budget will be paid". Good, but late, news. He also said that the theatre´s authorities would give him their plans for next year. According to the cultural structure, they will go through two filters: Telerman and the Province´s financial authorities. But in 2012 the authorities approved a budget and then didn´t honor it; it´s hard to be confident. And, as I know by direct experience, two things are essential running an opera house: the right amount of money at the proper moment, and a calendar that is met day by day with no changes. As the province has severe financial strictures due to curtailments by the National Government of their correct amount of coparticipation, the future isn´t rosy; but at least, if the assigned money is lower keep your promises, otherwise the theatre´s reputation falls and falls. Now Telerman tells us that the budget will have around  a 20% raise: well, it´s almost the inflation; it was 65 million in 2012, it would be 78 next year. Low if you compare it with the Colón: 240 million (2012), 301 (2013). And not strictly comparable, for they aren´t opera houses, 91 and 128 the Complejo Teatral and 57 and 70 the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. To my mind, the Argentino´s budget is too low for the intensity and quality of their seasons to be maintained; it should be around 120 million. Bear in mind that the Argentino has a staff of roughly 800 people and the Colón, 950, not so different.

            Colón vs. Argentino: in theoretical terms, it´s the difference between what should be a top international opera theatre (now it isn´t quite that) and a very good provincial theatre. Two parallels: Paris and Lyon; Berlin and Dresden. The first is autarchic, a plus; but this condition needs a better law than the current one, which should be strongly modified. I think autarchy would benefit the Argentino, liberating it  from an often uncooperative provincial institute, though only if it is backed by an intelligent law that would guarantee a workable budget. 

            Lombardero is on the right track when he proposes a net of Mercosur opera houses interchanging productions, as well as sharing some European ones; it extends the Argentino´s influence and it is an intelligent way of holding down ever increasing production costs. But of course it would need a much stronger impulse from cities that should have longer and more ambitious opera seasons.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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