Your attention, please! During the next three weeks, I'll be posting on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays, due to Eastertime, Saint George's Day and May 1st.
Lilacs in a vase - E. Manet
Ram de lilàs - E. Manet
Almost two years ago, I talked about the art song programme in Barcelona on a blog post. I said back then that it was a sort of desert: there were just three recitals programmed for the 2012-2013 season at the main auditoriums (Palau de la Música Catalana, Gran Teatre del Liceu and L'Auditori), none of them at the Liceu. The following season (which is the present one), song recitals went back to the opera house and four of them were programmed; for next season, 2014-2015, three more recitals are scheduled. I should be pleased but recently, coinciding with Nina Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann's recitals in the same week, I read on papers and social networks some comments suggesting that art song recitals should be removed from the Liceu seasons. As you would understand, those suggestions set off alarms bells.

I put together those arguments supporting the removal in order to share with you my thoughts; if you think it is worth, please add yours too!
  • The Gran Teatre del Liceu is an opera house. Sure, that's what decided those outstanding figures that came up with the bright idea of building it. In 1847, art song was mostly hausmusik and wasn't performed at concert halls. A lot has happened since then, and I don't see a reason why art song shouldn't be also scheduled. Shall we have a look what’s going on in Europe? Song recitals are programmed in Vienna, London and Munich's opera houses, for instance.
  • The Liceu is too large for recitals to be given. That’s true, the hall dimensions aren’t the most favorable. I wish that during the rebuilding after the 1995 fire, a chamber concert hall would had been taken into account, or that the Teatre Principal, the first opera house in Barcelona (in La Rambla too), had been restored for song recitals or baroque and chamber opera, but things are the way they are. If we look again towards Europe, we can add to those mentioned opera houses large halls like the Großer Saal at the Musikverein in Vienna or the Barbican in London. I think that large halls mostly go against the singer and the pianist, because they have to “shrink” the hall with their performance. I don't think it's the ideal situation but it's not that unusual. Besides, the highest floors could occasionally be closed for song recitals to create a more intimate hall (this idea is not mine, it's been done some times in auditoriums).
  • Recitals don’t fill the hall. We all like a “sold-out” day and in song recitals, this is quite unusual. Nevertheless it isn’t either an everyday situation with all operas; some titles are more attractive and Tosca easily becomes a “sold-out” show on Saturday than with Pelléas et Mélisande on Tuesday (please note that I'm mentioning two operas that I like very much). I am not aware of any official figures but I would say that occupancy in recitals is about 60-70%; Nina Stemme's recital was slightly lower, Jonas Kaufmann's Winterreise was 100%. If we take a low occupancy, about 50%, we are talking about 1200 people, equivalent to two full chamber concert halls. I wouldn’t talk about few people.
  • Recitals are not profitable. As you can imagine, I don't handle the budgets of the shows. Nevertheless I think that the cost of one singer and one pianist on stage is necessarily lower than the cost of performing an opera with eight singers, a conductor, a director and a stage design (I don't take into account the orchestra and the choir because they are staff members). Tickets are cheaper for recitals than for operas, but not that much; I would need real figures to be convinced that recitals are less profitable than operas. Moreover, should operas and recitals be profitable? What about libraries? Or museums? I don't think that culture should be profitable; on the contrary, I would say that, by definition, is a loss-making activity. In financial terms, of course, because cultural profits are huge, as we all know. I think that every euro should be properly budgeted, not only now that we are living a crisis but also always, which is completely different to a programme conditioned by profitability.
  • In Barcelona, people don’t support art song. So, I understand, if people aren't fond of art song, recitals should be removed altogether. That's a bright idea! I agree, we have less liking than in other places, but we have some. We’ve often dealt with this topic on this blog: are there few recitals because we don't have a liking for art song or we don't have a liking for art song because the lack of recitals? I think that's the key point: don't you think it would be worthwhile to make art song better known so as recitals fill and become profitable? Don't you think that is very sad to declare dead and buried a cultural expression in Barcelona?
We could talk about this at length, but it's my firm belief that art song recitals cannot be removed from the Liceu. As we're at it, they can't be wiped off from Liceu, neither Palau de la Música nor L'Auditori (the last two have a chamber music hall). Neither art song, nor chamber music, nor contemporary classical music, nor any of the minority classical musical genres. Because (and we shouldn't forget this) we are talking about public cultural institutions which have duties that private enterprises don’t have.

Anyway, shall we listen to some music to dispel pessimism? The three recitals programmed at the Liceu for the next season are those of the bariton Simon Keenlyside and the countertenors Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky. I'm sure you all, my dearest readers, know Keenlyside; Scholl and Jaroussky haven’t visited us yet. Both usually sing baroque music but, from time to time, they sing art song; Andreas Scholl released “Wanderer”, a recording with Schubert's Lieder, two years ago, and Philippe Jaroussky, some time before, “Opium”, a recording with French mélodie. It seems that their programmes will be based on their recordings, so today we are listening to Jaroussky and another day we'll listen to Scholl.

Philippe Jaroussky, accompanied by Jérôme Ducros, perform the beautiful Les temps de lilas by Ernest Chausson. The poem, by Maurice Bouchor, talks about spring; last week we had a happy spring song, this week is a sad one.
Le temps des lilas 

Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Ne reviendra plus à ce printemps-ci ;
Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Est passés, le temps des œillets aussi.

Le vent a changé, les cieux sont moroses,
Et nous n'irons plus courir, et cueillir
Les lilas en fleur et les belles roses;
Le printemps est triste et ne peut fleurir.

Oh ! joyeux et doux printemps de l'année,
Qui vins, l'an passé, nous ensoleiller,
Notre fleur d'amour est si bien fanée,
Las ! que ton baiser ne peut l'éveiller!

Et toi, que fais-tu ? pas de fleurs écloses,
Point de gai soleil ni d'ombrages frais;
Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Avec notre amour est mort à jamais.

The time of lilacs and the time of roses
Will no longer come again to this spring;
The time of lilacs and the time of roses
Has passed, the time of carnations also.

The wind has changed, the skies are morose,
And we will no longer run to pick
The lilacs in bloom and the beautiful roses;
The spring is sad and cannot bloom.

Oh!  Joyful and gentle spring of the year,
That came last year to bathe us in sunlight,
Our flower of love is so wilted,
Alas! that your kiss cannot awaken it!

And you, what are you doing?  No budding flowers,
No bright sun at all nor cool shade,
The time of lilacs and the time of roses,
Along with our love, is dead forever.

(translation by Korin Kormick)

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Comments (8)

  • Manuel Águila

    Si hagués estat un recital d'una figura operística, com Pavarotti en el passat, acompanyat només per un pianista, la premsa no hagués dit res.

    En fi, a Munic, que té teatres i sales de concerts de totes les mides, el juliol i dins del Festival d'Òpera, Thomas Hampson i Wolfram Rieger van a cantar al Teatre Nacional, que no és petit, precisament. Ja us diré què tal aquesta "Liederabend" a les onze del matí.

  • Sílvia


    Ja m'agradaria ser a aquest... Liedermatinée? No he sentit mai Hampson a un teatre. Ja ens explicaràs!

    D'entrada, millor al Prinzregententheater, però quan s'abaixen els llums pots quedar-te perfectament en petit comité amb els intèrprets, depèn d'ells.

    Diguem que tinc una llarga experiència amb recitals a teatres grans, és el que toca a Barcelona xD

  • Pumby

    Si uno de los argumentos que esgrimen los aficionados para proteger a la ópera de los recortes es que, aun siendo un público minoritario, su valor cultural es inmenso, lo mismo podemos aplicarlo al lied dentro del mundo lírico. Si no quieres que se carguen la ópera, no te cargues tú el recital de lied.
    En Madrid hay un ciclo de lied desde hace años ¿Por qué hay más afición que en Barcelona? No. Simplemente ha habido un apoyo, primero privado y ahora institucional, que en Bcn no ha surgido. Si se prepara un buen ciclo, con cantantes solventes y se le da publicidad, el público acudiría poco a poco y se haría afición. Si no el Liceo, en un espacio más pequeño, pero con vinculación al Teatro. Hace falta interés de los gestores culturales y ahí creo que está el problema, que tenemos gestores que saben muy poco de cultura o si saben no la aman.

  • Alicia

    El mismo razonamiento podría aplicarse al repertorio operístico menos trillado, ¿no? ¿Para qué programar Kiteh, o Krol Roger, o The Perfect American o Lucio Silla o... habiendo Toscas y Bolenas y Traviatas, que "es lo que le gusta a la gente"? Es la típica postura autorreferente del que asume que su verdad privada es una verdad pública.

    Mira que yo reniego de que en mi abono del Liceu me cuelen una función del ballet, pero no abogo porque dejen de hacer ballet en el Liceu, solo porque no lo incluyan en el abono de ópera.

    Y Herr Kauffman volverá a visitarnos el año que viene. Estamos de suerte :)

  • Sílvia

    "Lo que le gusta a la gente" es un argumento delicado, porque "la gente" somos muchos, cada uno con nuestros gustos.

    Estoy de acuerdo en que falta apoyo por parte de los gestores, pero las personas que hacían los comentarios que menciono en la entrada eran público o prensa (por si no lo he aclarado bien antes).

    Sí, vuelve Herr Kaufmann y con otro programa precioso. ¿Que me gustaría que viniera con ópera? Desde luego, pero además de, no en vez de.

  • Sílvia

    Y gracias a los tres, Manuel, Pumby y Alicia por dar vuestra opinión :)

  • Alicia

    Por eso "lo que le gusta a la gente" iba entrecomillado y lo de verdad pública/privada. Un buen gestor hará una oferta equilibrada entre el gran repertorio, nuevas propuestas, épocas, estilos... y obviamente habrá para todos los gustos. ¿Que es complicado? Por supuesto. ¿Apasionante? También.

    (De nada) ;)

  • Sílvia

    Te había entendido pero luego me expliqué mal, sorry :)

    De momento no me quejo demasiado de los gestores porque tanto el Liceu como el Palau han programado recitales muy atractivos para la próxima temporada. Todo es mejorable pero me quedo con la botella medio llena :)

    A ver con qué nos sorprende L'Auditori!

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