May 21, 2013
The Teatro Argentino’s terrible crisis
La Plata’s opera, concert and ballet house crippled by budget cuts, broken promises
by Pablo Bardin
For the Herald
Four years ago, a new team took over La Plata’s Teatro Argentino: Leandro Iglesias was the Director General, Marcelo Lombardero the Artistic Director and Alejo Pérez the Principal Conductor. The first two had already worked together at the Colón with good results. Their initial seasons at the Argentino were positive in many senses audacious and renovated opera and concert programming, a full calendar, a reasonable budget that allowed a certain degree of internationalization, strictly kept timetables, institutes to form future artists, the first steps towards a system of opera houses working in collaboration, etc.
There were mistakes provoked by Lombardero’s choice of producers that presented such fiascos as Tambuscio’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Handel) or Bieito’s Pepita Jiménez (Albéniz), though Lombardero thinks they were good! But many presentations were of high quality and firsts for La Plata, such as Lombardero’s own Tristan and Isolde (Wagner), or the presentation of a Strauss opera in La Plata “Salome). I didn’t like The Rhinegold, the first opera of Wagner’s Ring, in Lombardero’s conception, but it was still a brave thing to do, as part of a projected complete Tetralogy. And Alejo Pérez presented Mahler’s mighty Eighth Symphony.
However, last year things began to come apart, in line with BA governor Daniel Scioli’s increasing financial difficulties. The first part of the season proceeded as planned, but in the second there were three major cancellations: Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, Wagner’s Die Walküre and the ballet Zorba (Llorca Massine on music by Theodorakis). It transpired that numerous contracts weren’t being honoured and that labour unrest grew. By December, the situation exploded: Alejo Pérez resigned (I wrote about it in the Herald) and the vague promises of Jorge Telerman (at the helm of the province’s Instituto Cultural) that in January financial matters would be solved weren’t believed by the employees. Indeed, the annual recess of the theatre came and went and nothing had changed. So by the end of February the situation exploded. Lombardero resigned, and was shortly followed by Miguel Martínez (the Choir’s Director) and Mario Galizzi (the Ballet’s Director). Of the area heads, only Iglesias remained.
Simultaneously the labour situation, still unsolved, led to conflict with the government on a vast scale. A series of demands were relayed to province officials, the Orchestra declared the status of permanent assembly, and there were even street demonstrations. Finally, Iglesias reacted last week by announcing the season, or rather the shrunk skeleton of one. What will really happen is anyone’s guess, but he said that rehearsals of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would take place this week, and on Saturday, March 16, the concert would take place under Chilean conductor Pedro Pablo Prudencio.
It is interesting that the parting shot was sounded by labour inside the Instituto Cultural itself: the assembly of state workers union ATE in the Institute denounced (January 25) the deplorable situation of the Argentino and supported the claims its employees presented to the authorities of the province’s Government, the Institute and the Theatre: viz., that workers who had won legitimate competitions to enter the theatre’s staff hadn’t been officially appointed yet; that annual contracts hadn’t been renovated; that those under contract last year still hadn’t been paid; and that the building is dirty and unsafe due to mediocre maintenance.
On March 7th I received a press release where workers announced a rally outside the Argentino and street-held union assemblies outside the Administration, the Presidency of the Cultural Institute, the Legislature and the provincial government. Other union demands include asking authorities to carry out an audit to reveal the real administrative, financial and patrimonial situation of the Argentino; the appointment of directors for the permanent artistic bodies; programming that includes all areas of the theatre; adequate budget; due approval of worker contracts; Iglesias’ resignation; and for the province’s legislature to hold an inquest of relevant information and an interrogation of the Cultural Institute’s authorities.
A SILVER LINING? The province’s recently-created Complejo Teatral de Artes Escénicas, led by Juan Carlos D’Amico (Telerman’s predecessor at the Cultural Insititute), supervises the Argentino, Mar del Plata’s Auditorium, the Comedia Provincial and Bahía Blanca’s Organismo Artístico del Sur (currently in dire straits). To my mind, it is an unnecessary bureaucratic duplication of the Institute, typical of today’s convoluted bureaucratic minds. D’Amico and Telerman decided to send money for several matters that needed fixing at the Argentino: repairing the air conditioning, installing water pumps in the cellars, cleaning the façade and general maintenance. They also promise the normalization of the theatre, but Iglesias stressed that “we will have 20 percent more budget than last year, but it’s essential that we receive the money when we need it” (last year, the Argentino only ever got 29 percent of the money allotted for productions).
As to the very recent announcements made by Iglesias, several news transpire. First, a volley of appointments to replace those who had quit: the experienced Guillermo Brizzio as Artistic Director; Darío Domínguez Xodo as Conductor of the Orchestra, Esteban Rajmilchuk as the Director of the Choir, and Mario Silva as the Ballet Director. Except for Brizzio, all very new artists. Then, he said that collective bargaining would start on March 21.
Regarding the barebones season, the ballet announcements are by far the best: the three Tchaikovsky ballets plus Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering with Iñaki Urlezaga; also Handel’s Messiah in Mauricio Wainrot’s choreography. In the opera front, both Verdi and Wagner will be programmed in their bicentenary year: La Traviata in August; and The Flying Dutchman (première for La Plata: it aborted when announced in 2001) in October. Nothing else is announced.
Well, it’s better than nothing...