Photo by Antoni Bofill
Sala Bofill Liceu
The Liceu’s history matches the drama of its performances.
A sense of magic bonds the hushed audience as the dimming lights flush the curtain a deeper crimson. Over two thousand people breathe as one in the embrace of the Liceu’s golden horseshoe as the conductor’s baton falls and the curtain rises. The elegant curve of that horseshoe is uninterrupted by a royal box. This lack is part of the Liceu tradition. The theatre, built in 1847 by the wealth of 19th-century Barcelona, is a haut bourgeoisie creation independent of royal funding. When it opened it was the biggest house in Europe, patrons bought shares of from one acción to seven acciones, which granted them seats and boxes, the later often lavishly decorated, to be handed down to their heirs. These were called the banyeres, the bathtubs. The 4th and 5th balconies—the cheap seats—were nicknamed the galliner, the henroost.
But the Liceu, despite plush beginnings, has over its almost two hundred year history survived political instability, hard economic times and fires with a resilience that would please its original merchant founders. The first fire was in 1861. In 1893, two bombs thrown by anarchists, on the season’s opening night during the second act of William Tell, exploded in the stalls killing twenty people. In 1931, during the Second Spanish Republic, the theatre experienced a severe financial crisis. The Barcelona City Council and the government of Catalunya subsidised the theatre. In 1981, the Generalitat de Catalunya, the City Council and the Societat del Gran Teatre del Liceu created the Consorci del Gran Teatre del Liceu to manage the theatre. But the physical devastation of another fire overwhelmed the house in January 1994. Oddly the same sections of the building survived the fire as in 1861. Puccini’s Turandot reopened the theatre in October 1999, the opera that had been next on the schedule before the fire in 1994, with Eva Marton and Johan Botha. In the rebuilding of the house, modern technology was installed, including individual translation screens in front of most seats.
The theatre was originally intended for mixed productions. On opening night April 4, 1847, the programme included an overture, a historical play, a ballet and a cantata. Between the two World Wars it became exclusively an opera house. Among the high notes of famous names familiar here are, Luisa Tetrazini, Enrico Caruso, Feodor Chaliapin, Lauritz Melchior, Maria Callas, Victoria de los Ángeles, Kristin Flagstaff, Renata Tibaldi, Brigit Nilsson, Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, and Juan Diego Flores. Monserrat Caballé debuted here. Caruso was booed at his performance, which is odd considering that Camille Saint-Saëns commented on the Barcelona public, Ils aiment trop le tenor. (They are too fond of tenors.)
Before the 1994 fire there were approximately 9,000 subscribers. After the fire that number swelled to 20,000. In 2010-2011, despite these difficult times, there were 17,985 subscribers. The founders, no strangers to economic stress, would surely consider the efforts at fund raising and the individual and corporate contributors part of the grand tradition of the Liceu, a proclamation of Barcelona’s cultural vibrancy— where there is no royal box.
Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu
La Rambla 51-59, 08002,
Tel. 93 485 9932