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Argentina: The Conflict between Teatro Colón and the City of Buenos Aires

It's been more than twelve years since the last performance of the famous tenor Plácido Domingo in Argentina. The concert [es], planed for March 23 in Buenos Aires, was therefore meant to be a special tribute from the Spanish singer to the country where he started in 1972. The first part of the concert was to take place in the Teatro Colón, the prestigious Buenos Aires opera house, and the second one was to take place outdoors with 20,000 people expected to attend. These were great news for opera fans, but things didn't turn out exactly as planned.

First, the outdoor part of the concert was postponed to March 24 because of rain. Then, the concert at Teatro Colón was canceled as the very musicians of the theater refused to play for the event because of their conflict with the city's administration.

In an open-letter [es] published on their website, the Teatro Colón's musicians explain their decision:

Las razones a enumerar son interminables; no olvidemos que la Dirección del Teatro nos está agraviando sistemáticamente, apodándonos terroristas psicológicos, cuasi mafiosos… Este gobierno vino con la decisión de precarizar a todo el personal del Teatro, tercerizanado, disciplinando, entre tantos otros atropellos laborales, incluso avasallando nuestro derecho constitucional.

The reasons to name are endless; let's not forget that the Theater's Administration is systematically worsening our situation, by calling us psychotic terrorists, almost mafia… This government came in with the decision to make all the situation of the Theater's staff precarious by outsourcing, disciplining, among so many other labor abuses, even subjugating our constitutional right.

The interior of the Teatro Colón, by Flickr user Roger Schultz (CC BY 2.0)

The conflict started with the reopening of the Teatro Colón in 2010. It has been worsening since then, disturbing the end of last year's season with the cancellation of several performances. As a consequence, the director of the Theater, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, declared last week that the sale of opera subscriptions would be adjourned this year.

In the article “El público amante de la ópera que esta solo y espera…” (Opera lovers are alone and waiting…), Enrique Sirvén [es] laments last year's perturbation and wishes that the new season starts peacefully:

Espero que la apertura del Teatro Colón sea definitiva, después de una temporada como la del año pasado, forzosamente más breve y finalmente interrumpida, después de un largo receso. Que los importantes títulos programados para la que se inicia puedan llevarse a cabo.

I hope that the opening of the Colón Theater will be definitive, after a season like the we had last year, forced to be shorter and in the end interrupted after a large break. May the important shows programmed for the new season be performed.

The Teatro Colón employees denounce several issues before the conservative governor of Buenos Aires Mauricio Macri, who is in charge of the administration of the opera house. A summary of their complaints can be found on Habitúes del Teatro Colón [es]. Among other things, they criticize staff cuts and the physical management of the theater, as well as the sanctions adopted against some of the leaders of the protest.

The blog En defensa del Teatro Colón [es] (Defending Teatro Colón) explains why the restoration plan designed by the city's government is damaging the architecture of the theater, inaugurated in 1908.

Hace seis años el Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires inició un ambicioso plan de renovación y restauración de este Monumento Histórico Nacional. El denominado “Masterplan” … diseñado y ejecutado por profesionales con escasa experiencia en la materia pone en grave riesgo la integridad y autenticidad de la estructura histórica … y acústica, calificada como la mejor entre todas las salas líricas del mundo.

Six years ago the Buenos Aires’ government started an ambitious plan of renovation and restoration of that national monument [Teatro Colón]. The so-called “Masterplan”…. designed and executed by professionals with little experience in that field, endangers the integrity and authenticity of its historical structure… and its acoustics, considered the best among all the lyric auditoriums in the world.

An employee of the Teatro Colón, Carlos Fernandez, voiced his opinion on the matter on Radio Palermo [es].

The harpist and blogger ManosMágicas (Magic hands) [es] sends her support to the musicians, who are expected to perform a protest concert on March 25:

Concuerdo con estos valiosos artistas que, comprometidos con la cultura nacional y su público, solo desean poder trabajar en paz y realizar su arte para lo cual se han formado con mucha exigencia.

I agree with these valuable artists which have been committed to our national culture and their audience. They just want to be able to work peaceful and carry out the art for which they have been trained very thoroughly.

In the end, the open-air concert was a great success [es], with more than 120,000 people listening to Plácido Domingo. YouTube user GafGafgarion uploaded this video of the concert:

The tenor expressed his solidarity to the musicians of the Colón and urged them to find an agreement with the government of the city. He also promised to return to Buenos Aires in 2012.

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