The show goes on at Madrid´s opera house despite pandemic

MADRID (AP) - Nobody performing on stage at the Spanish opera house Teatro Real is masked, and that alone looks strange these days amid a pandemic.
And that even before the second act scene in Antonín Dvořák's “Rusalka” - about a water nymph who falls in love with a mortal - in which the actors kiss and grope in a pretended, socially distant orgy.
While many of the world's top venues are closed, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Covent Garden in London and La Scala in Milan, a performance at the Teatro Real in Madrid can almost make you forget about the coronavirus.
Located in one of the cities hardest hit by the virus, the Teatro Real is making great efforts to keep the show going. It is investing in security measures that have enabled it to stage performances - albeit with a smaller audience - since July.
In March and April, Madrid's hospitals were filled with COVID-19 patients due to infections. That subsided in the summer, but another wave drove cases up in the city and the surrounding area. The authorities now seem to have gained the upper hand, and hospital occupancy rates are falling steadily. In total, the Spanish Ministry of Health has registered more than 1.54 million cases and attributed almost 42,300 deaths to the virus.
"Theater and culture have to bet on staying open at all times," Ignacio García-Belenguer, managing director of Teatro Real, told The Associated Press. "It's not about going against the current or being extraordinary. ... We believe that we are." have to do."
With an annual budget of 60 million euros ($ 71 million), Spain's premier cultural center recognizes that it has the capacity and ability to move on.
García-Belenguer says that funding through public subsidies, sponsorships and ticketing puts the Teatro Real in a unique break-even location, unlike other opera houses that are usually mostly public or private. Additional government funding from the pandemic will also help, he adds.
But it is also fortunate to be in a region that has chosen to tackle the virus differently and apply fewer and more localized restrictions so that bars, restaurants and cultural institutions can stay open with reduced attendance.
It was closed during the three months of Spanish detention between March and May, but preparations for reopening continued. A number of measures were introduced which enabled him to stage a work with an audience in July, Giuseppe Verdi's “La Traviata”. Since then, it has performed two more operas, ballets and flamenco shows and plans a full season for 2021.
Everyone who enters the theater has their temperature measured automatically by machines. Hand sanitizers abound and surgical masks are supplied to everyone. There are ultraviolet lamps to disinfect the main theater, changing rooms and clothing. The air conditioning has been adjusted to provide healthier airflow and temperature.
García-Belenguer says they will spend € 1 million on security measures by the end of the year.
"I feel like I'm in a miracle", says the Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian, the star of "Rusalka", a co-production with companies in Dresden, Bologna, Barcelona and Valencia. These places will not be able to stage the opera for a while.
"We're always being tested (and) with masks, it's really strict in the theater," says Grigorian, whose Met debut in October 2021 was canceled while shows in Berlin and elsewhere are uncertain.
"I have no idea where I'm going in Madrid," she says. "If everything is locked, I'll stay in Madrid."
You and the director of “Rusalka”, Christof Loy, believe that Madrid shows the way.
"I think governments are wrong about closing theaters," Loy said. "People need music, they need art."
García-Belenguer compares the situation with the generally accepted security measures that were put in place after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The "new normal" demands "an effort to minimize the health risk when someone comes to the theater or gets on a plane".
The key to staying open during the pandemic was Teatro Real's decision to set up a medical committee with specialists from five Madrid hospitals to provide advice.
Behind the stage, masks are mandatory for everyone. The cast, choir and orchestra are tested every three days, others are monitored regularly. Stage workers and other workers must complete health questionnaires every day.
There were isolated positive tests, but according to its own statements, the theater reacted immediately in each of them and often tested up to 50 people who had come into contact with the infected person.
The average of more than 1,000 viewers - around 65% of normal capacity - is divided into 19 sectors with separate refreshment areas and toilets, plus a small army of ushers to ensure that no roaming occurs.
"It is a complex system to reduce the impact to the maximum," said García-Belenguer.
He knows any outbreak could prove embarrassing. Memories are fresh at a performance of Verdi's “Un Ballo in Maschera” in September, when a show was interrupted and finally canceled after viewers in cheaper seats protested loudly that they were crammed together while the expensive ones were apparently crammed together lots of space.
The opera house was in full compliance with regulations at the time, but a one-seat separation between any two has been the norm ever since.
The associated press photographer Bernat Armangue contributed to this.
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