lunes, enero 13, 2014

The Colón: an evaluation of its current condition


            The Colón Theatre has been for 106 years the great center in Buenos Aires for opera, ballet and concert life. During that long period it has had its share of polemics: a partial shutdown in 1957 due to a labor conflict; a total closure of four years (late 2006 to May 2010) for ample restoration work whose results are still being discussed. But even in those years there were at least two seasons at the Coliseo (2007, 2009) with the Colón forces, and in 2008, a few concerts and some chamber opera elsewhere.

            After heavy newspaper flak Mauricio Macri decided that the controversial Master Plan had to somehow reach its end, the reinauguration of the theatre; and with a complex support from two other organisms the long-awaited day arrived: May 25, 2010. It was  a political necessity, for in fact the works were supposed to finish in 2008. For the general public it was a great success, for the theatre looked well (though some specialists insist that the restoration won´t last) and there was real hunger to have a fully functioning Colón. And apparently it was so, at least in opera and concerts (there was trouble with the ballet due to the lack of an adequate flooring and half the season was cancelled).

            But alas, neither many members of the audiences nor superficial observers  that should have known better realised that there were terrible flaws in other aspects. First, the idea was sold that the theater´s restoration was finished: false. It was left incomplete in vital aspects and people weren´t told that most of the production was done elsewhere at a space in Belgrano called La Nube, much smaller than the original stage design halls at the Colón now used for rehearsals.

             Even now, when some cellars below the Plaza Vaticano have been recovered for certain production aspects, the integration of the Colón as it was before is far from complete, and a big block in the main building remains unused and unreformed. And people don´t seem to appreciate the cultural disaster symbolised by the unavailability of the Colón Library, whose invaluable materials remain in containers since 2006.

            But the human side is even worse. On Macri´s instructions (based on a wrong imitation of Milan´s La Scala "innovations"), the Colón´s Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi transferred 400 people partly to hospitals and partly to a limbo where they would be evaluated by an obscure office which never did the job...all to  reach a staff level of 900, disrupting careers and eliminating wholesale such necessary sections as Administration; surreal but sadly true. So we now have this ridiculous situation: about 900 are staff, but the total number is still about 1300...for most of those jobs were indispensable and are covered by people from outside the theatre ("tercerization"); and the theatre is more costly than it used to be.

            There were also strikes and performances that were cancelled with the audience inside the theatre, and in this the Colón workers were surely wrong although they had great and true grievances; followed a long series of law suits, most of them favorable to labor, and they will continue during 2014.

            Some things were ameliorated after 2010: although still far from ideal, the integration of the orchestras, the choir and the ballet allowed a lot of necessary young blood to show their capacity, even if not always done following orthodox competitions. Much remains to be done, however, in the structuring of the workshops, hindered by the lack of facilities mentioned above.

            One factor has caused a lot of protestations from the music lovers: the very high prices in a state-funded theatre. True, operatic prizing is high also in Europe, but their standard of living triples or quadruples ours. The lack of special discount for students or pensioners is also bothersome.

            On the purely artistic side veteran Colón goers agree that we are operatically very far from the halcyon years of either the Renán or the Valenti Ferro seasons. Gross mistakes such as the Colón-Ring are very much in the debit side.  Few first-rate singers have visited us. On the credit side, we´ve had some interesting premières (even too many in 2012). The ballet seasons still have a poor repertoire but the quality of dancing has picked up a good deal.

            Concerts: the "reflected glory" from many splendid concerts by private institutions (Mozarteum, Nuova Harmonia, Festivales)  have given us great Colón nights, but the theatre has also offered admirable soloists in 2012 such as András Schiff, or first-rate orchestras in 2013 (Simón Bolívar, Israel Philharmonic). Plus the Scala Verdi performances. And the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, under the charismatic Enrique Arturo Diemecke, has had successful seasons. I also commend the evenings of difficult but valuable Twentieth century composers (Varèse, Xenakis, Nono). For 2014 we have the extraordinary conjunction of Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim.

            A moot point on which I have strong views with which you may not agree: I find it wrong policy to offer popular music at the Colón. This is a classical music theatre of famous acoustics; it is demeaned by amplification.  It is no place for Las Elegidas or for Charly García. And I also feel that their artistic quality is simply not comparable to any of the above. But Macri and Minister Lombardi seem to feel it´s good politics...

For Buenos Aires Herald

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