Madrid’s Teatro Real returns to the stage, with a socially distanced production of ‘La Traviata’

After more than 100 days of closure, the opera house pulled off a skilled return, with a full choir and orchestra observing the safety measures necessary in the Covid-19 era

The Teatro Real reopens after the coronavirus crisis with a production of ‘La Traviata.’ Video: Rehearsals ahead of the first performance.Photo: EFE
Jesús Ruiz Mantilla

It was all very strange, but it worked. If any European opera house could take the first steps toward the so-called new normality, it was Madrid’s Teatro Real. On Wednesday, the theater became the first to stage a major production, Verdi’s La Traviata, with a complete orchestra and choir in the Covid-19 era. The reopening came more than 100 days since the start of the lockdown in Spain and the closure of the theater, which is located in Ópera, in the heart of the Spanish capital.

And they pulled it off. An hour before the performance, there were lines forming outside the entrance. The public arrived in suits and ball gowns, but wearing face masks. The foyer was abuzz with affectionate elbow bumps as long lost friends saw each other once more. “I hope that the expectations of enjoyment outweigh the feelings of fear,” said the general director of the Teatro Real, Ignacio García-Belenguer.

Nothing is simple now, including being here tonight
Journalist Iñaki Gabilondo

Before the curtain was raised on the semi-staged production, Spanish journalist Iñaki Gabilondo made a short speech in the name of the theater and also called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the coronavirus pandemic. “Nothing is simple now, including being here tonight,” he said. He cited the words of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, who said that music served to “rebuild broken spirits.”

Part of the success of the night was based on skill in terms of the protocol. And also a firm will to dispel any despondency and banish any unknowns. All of the teams proved to be highly efficient, from the technical and security staff, to the musicians, choir and other artists.

The orchestra pit had been doubled in size and had invaded space that was previously given over to seats for the audience, with the required social distancing and protection. The interval was increased to 40 minutes so that the pit and the stage could be disinfected. It was another demonstration that only patience will allow an audience to see a 76-member orchestra and a 51-strong choir in the new normality. Nicola Luisotti was conducting from a podium, behind a plastic screen and from the appropriate distance. The sound was, unsurprisingly, somewhat different.

Members of the audience arrive at Madrid’s Teatro Real to see the opening performance of ‘La Traviata.’
Members of the audience arrive at Madrid’s Teatro Real to see the opening performance of ‘La Traviata.’Javier del Real / Spanish Royal (EFE)

Opera singers Marina Rebeka and Michael Fabiano headed up a cast that will change over the 27 planned performances this month. The former received the majority of the ovations from an audience that was keen to applaud – an audience that, for now, is at 50% of capacity. Another 6,000 tickets were put on sale on Thursday, with the capacity due to increase.

In the audience on Wednesday were two of Spain’s deputy prime ministers, Carmen Calvo and Economy Minister Nadia Calviño, as well as Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso.

All of these personalities and more were witnesses to the return of the Teatro Real, together with an audience that was as patient as it was anxious to hear live music once more. The public was exemplary in its behavior, as was to be expected on a night that represented a before and after for the Madrid institution.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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