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Show continues in Madrid as cultural life continues despite pandemic

The opera Teatro Real in Madrid is preparing its latest productions in what at any time would be an ambitious season. With Spain grappling with some of the worst coronavirus infection rates in Europe, its plans are all the more remarkable.

Real Madrid premiere of a four-hour production of Wagner Siegfried takes place on Saturday while two other operas with largely foreign castes – Bellini’s To reign and Britten’s Peter Grimes – will be organized this month.

The performances are part of a wave of artistic activity that has continued in the Spanish capital despite the pandemic, as Madrid gives its answer to the question: to what extent must cultural life be closed to control the virus ?

“It’s really fantastic to be able to work”, enthuses Robert Carsen, SiegfriedCanadian director. “The rest of Europe is almost completely closed, the theaters are struggling, the artists are struggling, and it’s really amazing to be able to work in the theater in these fantastic conditions.

Ricarda Merbeth and Andreas Schager in ‘Siegfried’ at the Teatro Real © Javier del Real / Teatro Real

Madrid’s artistic activity goes far beyond Real. About 90% of the city’s roughly 60 theaters put on shows – roughly the only productions pending are musicals.

The major museums of the city – the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía – are open, as are many smaller galleries. This month, the capital even hosts the Madrid Design Festival, with more than 150 exhibitions and in-person events in dozens of venues, including a “culinary experience” at Michelin-starred chef Diego Guerrero’s DSpeak restaurant.

Real have been open since July, just after Spain’s hard spring lockdown, with only a few adjustments to a schedule planned years in advance. “The word is ‘heroic’,” said Pablo Heras-Casado, Siegfried ‘conductor, who has been working for months on the repositioning of the Wagnerian orchestra of 87 musicians.

To maintain social distancing, nine brass players were banned in boxes to the right of the stage; six harps and a percussionist are on the opposite side; several violinists play stuck against the wall.

A visitor looks at a painting by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao © Vincent West / Reuters

That’s not exactly what Wagner had in mind when he developed the orchestral pit in the 1870s, to hide musicians out of sight. But it is emblematic of Madrid’s determination to keep cultural life alive – and alive – in the depths of the pandemic.

Real have taken a host of other measures. Everyone is regularly tested for the virus, and wardrobe and makeup are groomed in hallways or rehearsal rooms, to separate the plaster cast. The public is masked and its temperatures are taken on arrival. Nuria Gallego, director of infrastructure at Real, said the ventilation system pumped at least 28 liters of filtered air for every member of the public every second.

There have been accidents. The opera was forced to cancel a performance of Verdi A masked ball in September after members of the public protested what they saw as inadequate social distancing in the cheaper seats.

But Los Blancos claim they followed the rules set by the Madrid region – which allows them to fill around two-thirds of their 1,746 seats – and that there hasn’t been a single documented case of infection. at the Opera.

“We don’t know to what extent cultural activities contribute to transmission – it is extremely difficult to compare the effectiveness of diets from different countries – and they can make a useful contribution to mental health,” said Pedro Alonso, professor. of Global Health at the University of Barcelona. .

Spectators await the start of a performance at the Teatro Real last month © Oscar Del Pozo / AFP via Getty Images

But the policy in much of Europe has been to shut down live shows with audiences. While Moscow has taken a similar approach to Madrid, ending a six-month closure of cultural venues with a September performance of Verdi Don Carlos at the Bolshoi, London’s West End is closed.

Museums, theaters and cinemas across France have been closed since October – although commercial art galleries remain open. The Vienna Philharmonic performed their annual New Years concert in an empty hall for the first time since the tradition began in 1939.

One difference is that Spain’s socialist government has come under heavy attack from political enemies and regional leaders for imposing a severe lockdown between March and June. Perhaps as a result, he has not issued a second stay-at-home order even as infection rates have risen to the third highest in the EU.

Instead, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has past primary responsibility for managing the pandemic in the regions, giving them the power to limit population movements, enforce curfews and restrict gatherings.

The infection rate in Spain has been dropping for about two weeks. But from this week, the rate is double that of France and more than four times that of Germany.

Amid the mosaic of restrictions across the country, MadridThe center-right administration has been among the most reluctant to impose restrictions, whether on hospitality or the arts.

Other regions have been more suspicious. The Picasso Museum in Málaga is closed, as is the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres, although the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is open and the Miró Foundation in Barcelona operates limited hours on weekends.

The national government is in favor of opening up such spaces if possible.

“We have seen that cultural spaces can be safe – without infection – as long as strict protocols are followed and masks are worn,” said José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, Spain’s Minister of the Arts. “Culture has helped us through these difficult months. . . Culture is a fundamental human right. “

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Moscow, Valerie Hopkins in Budapest and Victor Mallet in Paris

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