CORONAVIRUS

Madrid’s Teatro Real forced to cancel performance after audience protests lack of social distancing

Patrons in the upper galleries of the theater say that up to 15 people were seated side by side in a row despite the risk of coronavirus contagion

Video: Audience members protest the lack of social distancing measures at the Teatro Real (Spanish captions).

Madrid’s famous Teatro Real was on Sunday forced to cancel a performance of Verdi’s opera Un ballo in maschera due to a protest from audience members over the lack of social-distancing measures. Madrid has once again become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with the region accounting for more than one third of all new Covid-19 cases.

According to one of the spectators, who had a seat in the upper gallery of the opera house, where tickets are less expensive, up to 15 people were seated side by side in this area with no space between them. The spectator told EL PAÍS that audience members complained to the ushers as soon as they saw that they were seated right next to other theatergoers, with no empty seats between them. In a press release, the Teatro Real maintained that capacity was at 51.5%, meaning 905 seats were occupied.

On the ground floor, some of the seats were closed off, but in the upper galleries, there were entire rows of 15 people side by side
Spectator at Teatro Real

The situation became increasingly tense, and many members of the audience began to stamp their feet and clap to express their anger at the lack of social-distancing measures. The commotion became so great that one of the theater managers decided to announce over the megaphone that the performance would be delayed so that anyone who wished to could leave the theater and ask for a ticket refund. The lobby was then overwhelmed with angry patrons, and the police were called in to control the situation.

“There were no complaint forms, they had to go to the offices to print them. On the ground floor, some of the seats were closed off, but in the upper galleries, where there are lots of people much closer together, there were entire rows of 15 people side by side,” said one of the spectators. “It’s unacceptable, a lot of elderly people come here and they should take that into account.” The Teatro Real has not clarified whether the level of seat occupation was the same in all areas of the theater.

Another audience member, who was seated in one of the front rows on the ground stall, also complained that the theater had not left empty seats. “The entire row was filled, there was not one seat free, we were like fleas. And that’s in the most expensive area of the theater. My companion and I went to the back, where there seemed to be more space.” According to this spectator, after the theater announced that it would offer refunds, the orchestra entered the pit and started to play. The overture was played and some of the first singers came out onto the stage, but the booing was so loud that Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti left the theater and the performance was cancelled. According to a press release from the Teatro Real, the conductor tried twice to continue with the opera but a “very small group insisted in continuing their protest to boycott the performance, and for this reason it was canceled at around 9.10pm.”

Under the regulations of the Madrid regional government, the theater is allowed to be at 75% capacity, a figure that, in practice, does not allow safe distances to be established between all audience members. At a press conference for the presentation of the opera, which opened last Friday, the managing director of the Teatro Real, Ignacio García-Belenguer, said that the theater had decided not to sell more than 65% of available tickets to make the public feel safer.

Many of the theatergoers took to social media to express their outrage at what happened. “The Teatro Real opera was canceled due to the protests over the overcrowding of people,” Spanish writer Rosa Montero wrote in a message on Twitter. “I was there and it was shameful. There was a total lack of distancing [measures]. And at this time, with 37 areas restricted! We love opera but not like this,” she added, in reference to the new selective lockdowns aimed at curbing contagion in the capital and the Madrid region.

The Teatro Real has said that it will open an investigation “into this regrettable incident and will take the necessary measures so that future performances take place normally.” The iconic theater was the first opera house in the world to reopen after its closure due to the coronavirus lockdown and has pioneered the creation of new protocols that allow performances to continue safety while the pandemic continues to affect the country.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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