Royal Theatre

Royal Theatre
   The Royal Theatre (Teatro Real), Madrid, was reopened in 1997 as an opera house after a complete, but also a contentious and costly, refurbishment begun in 1988.
   The saga of the restoration of the theatre provides a good example of the negative as well as the positive aspects of political involvement in Spanish cultural matters. Originally opened in 1850, with a production of Donizetti's La Favorita, the Royal was closed in the 1920s, blown up in the Civil War and eventually re-opened in 1966 for concerts and recitals only. The project to restore it as an opera house was initiated as part of the generous arts policy and arts funding of the 1980s, and work began on it as soon as a purpose-built concert hall, the Auditorio Nacional de Música, had been completed. But precisely because it was publicly financed, and because key positions in state cultural institutions are political appointments (see also cultural institutions and movements), the project suffered a number of serious setbacks, postponing the opening of the theatre from 1992 to 1997. In 1993, when costs had already risen to three times the original estimate, and the orchestra director, Antoni Ros Marbà, had been contracted and paid from 1989, the Minister of Culture appointed a new architect, Francisco Rodríguez de Partearroyo, who proposed substantial changes to the plans of the the original architects, Verdú (who had died suddenly at the beginning of 1992) and González Valcárcel. These were criticized for contravening the provisions of the approved Special Plan, for involving the demolition of some of the original and some of the new building, and for adding a highly controversial semi-circular vaulted roof to the cirumference of the theatre. Then in 1995 the Madrid City Council found that its share of the annual running costs of the Royal Theatre and the Zarzuela together was going to be well beyond its arts budget, and withdrew from the Lyric Theatre Foundation, formed to finance the operation, leaving the Ministry of Culture and the Madrid Region to share the costs between them. By then the reconstruction cost had risen to 20,000m pesetas, compared with the initial estimate of 5,800m pesetas.
   When in November 1995 the huge chandelier (a reconstruction of the original design by Pedro Tendero, a famous glazier of the mid-nineteenth century) weighing 2,700 kilograms and several metres in diameter, fell into the auditorium, reducing itself to splinters and destroying some seating and flooring, the event was described as only the latest in a long line of disasters. Reconstructed a second time by the Royal Glass Factory in La Granja, it was re-installed in time for the gala opening.
   Among the many changes of key personnel in the arts world that followed the change of government in 1996, Elena Salgado, the director appointed by the previous Minister of Culture, was dismissed, and her functions taken over by a two-member executive committee, the new director of the Institute of Drama and Music (Instituto de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música-INAEM) and a representative of the Madrid Region. The artistic director, Stéphane Lissner, was retained, but resigned later in the year, accusing the director of INAEM and the Secretary of State for Culture of continual obstructionism and interference. His resignation led in turn to cancellations of two operas for the opening season by leading international conductors. Finally opened in October, 1997, with performances of Falla's ballet The Three-Cornered Hat (El sombrero de tres picos) and his opera La vida breve (Life is Short), the Royal Theatre provides Spain, and Madrid in particular, with a venue primarily for opera, but also for ballet, concerts, conferences and other public events.
   See also: Liceu Theatre; music; opera

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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