Spain's economic crisis hits famed opera house

By Ciaran Giles

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 22 2011 9:15 a.m. MST

FILE - In this photo released by the Liceo theatre, a rehearsal of the production Anna Bolena is staged at the Liceo Opera House in Barcelona on Jan. 17, 2011. Economic cutbacks are forcing Barcelona's Liceu opera house to stall its season-start in 2011-2012 by one month and may oblige the famed theater to introduce temporary staff layoffs, The Liceu said Tuesday Feb. 22, 2011, noting that subsidies are severely reduced.

A Bofill, Liceo Theatre, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MADRID — Spain's economic crisis has forced Barcelona's Liceu opera house to delay the opening of its 2011-2012 season by a month and could lead to temporary layoffs at the famous theater, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The Liceu said cuts in subsidies by the Spanish Culture Ministry and the regional government of Catalonia have reduced its 2011-2012 budget to €48.4 million ($66 million), down €10 million ($14 million) from two years ago.

The theater said it will start next season with Charles Gounod's "Faust" on Oct. 7, instead of in September.

The company is in talks with its choir and orchestra in a bid to avoid temporary layoffs for that month.

Theater spokeswoman Isabel Santana said the Liceu, one of Europe's leading opera houses, also will have to raise ticket prices for its more popular shows. It will maintain them for lesser-known works, and lower prices for ballet.

The Liceu said that despite the shortened opera season, it will still stage 119 shows in 2011-2012, just five fewer than the current season.

"We are entering a new era in terms of financing, given that, as of now, money generated by the theater outweighs public subsidies," Theater manager Ana Serrano told reporters on presenting the figures Monday.

Next season, public subsidies will represent 48 percent of the Liceu's income, down from 52 percent.

The theater said it had reduced publications and re-negotiated contracts with companies who service the theater in a bid to reduce costs.

The Liceu — which opened in 1847 — now employs 395 people, reduced from 441 following layoffs last year.

Spain's Culture Ministry began a gradual 30 percent cut in its subsidy to theaters over the past three years while the regional Catalan government announced a 15 percent cut earlier this year. The Liceu says sponsorship has also dipped.

The ministry cutback has also affected Madrid's Teatro Real opera house, but that theater said recently the effect has been cushioned by a rise in ticket prices and an increase in sponsorship.

Spain is struggling to emerge form nearly two years of recession that has left it with a eurozone-high unemployment rate of 20 percent and a bloated deficit.

Northeastern Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, is one of the most economically powerful of Spain's 17 regions. But it has also been one of the hardest hit by the crisis.

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