The pandemic has brought down the curtain at the mythical Teatro Colón for the second time in almost a century of existence. Nobody knows when the applause will echo again in its majestic auditorium.
Its artists agree that while there is no vaccine, the gala nights of opera, ballet and concerts will be an increasingly distant memory.
"Everything that turns into art will be very different from what has been seen until now. Both the rehearsals and the mise-en-scène will have to be reinvented,” assures principal ballet dancer Federico Fernández.
Argentina has been in compulsory quarantine since March 20 but the Colón closed down a week beforehand, on the eve of the dress rehearsal for the Verdi opera Nabucco.
"It would have been brilliant, the best of the season," according to Colón cellist Jorge Bergero. While the stage is silent, machinery hums below. There are some 50 costume designers who have dropped the tutus and the crowns to make face-masks designed for volunteers like themselves.
A new Colón
Since its inauguration in 1908, the Colón "has only closed down once [for its centenary in 2008] to remodel," the theatre’s director María Victoria Alcaraz tells AFP.
But with the pandemic, its future "is a challenge requiring an open, creative and flexible mind."
"There is no doubt it will not be the same," she agrees.
She imagines a first stage of performances delivered online via the Internet and then a return to the theatre "with [social] distancing and less public."
Closure has also brought about financial problems due to the reimbursement of season ticket subscriptions which the public had acquired up to a year ahead.
"We had to return the money for the tickets sold last year which had already been used to finance productions. That makes a very important hole in our budget," admits Alcaraz.
The theatre sent out 9,000 letters to its subscribers inviting them to donate the value of their tickets, with 30 percent being answered in the affirmative.
"That redoubles the efforts to keep the Colón shining near the Obelisk and, when it can re-open, to be as magnificent as it was when it closed," she wishes.
Taking the theatre outside
Luis Sava is a violinist in the orchestra but today only his neighbours can enjoy his virtuoso talent.
Since the quarantine started, he practises on the rooftop "to fight the confinement and kill the anguish."
"I discovered that from the roof I can see a pupil of mine on his balcony. On quiet days we can even hear each other,” he relates.
Social distancing was a stab in the heart for the theatre. "We’re over 100 in the orchestra and our music-stands are all next to each other. Unless the vaccine comes soon, it will be impossible to play," he explains.
His colleague Bergero supplies some examples: "You can’t sing an opera with a face-mask nor play next to an oboe blowing air all over me or be on the alert in case somebody coughs in the front row."
Soprano and pianist María Castillo de Lima prefers to dream of "a return to a full house."
"After so much tragedy, humanity will need art any way how,” she affirms.
Making the leap
Fernández, as he dances, grows wings when he leaps on the stage. What worries him most now is "how to make the leap to overcome this situation."
"Over the past century there was something similar only in the world wars, art is undergoing a key moment and we are searching for how to flourish in this new stage ahead,” he says.
For now the only resort is virtual spectators. Around 200,000 of these watched the retransmission of the ballet Swan Lake and almost 100,000 tuned in for the opera La Bohème.
But all that is still far from satisfying the dreams of 12-year-old Violeta, a third-year pupil in the Colón ballet school (sadly also closed).
"Without the final bow and applause, the magic is over," she sums up.
by Sonia Avalos, AFP