“Having the chance to be here with you is a huge blessing and with all my heart I applaud the great efforts being made in this country to defend culture,” Mexican tenor Javier Camarena told Madrid’s Theatre Royal after going months without performing on stage, AFP reported.
In the audience were 1,200 people in suits, fur coats and masks, often the FFP2 type, after having their temperature taken as part of a meticulous safety protocol.
Following a months-long national lockdown at the start of the pandemic, Spain’s cultural venues reopened in the summer operating with strict capacity limitations, well-spaced seating policies and restaurants and cloakrooms closed.
And since then they have never closed their doors, unlike in other countries such as France or Germany.
But it has meant a costly investment by the venues.
The Theatre Royal, where Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia attended a performance in September, said it has spent one million euros ($1.2 million), part of which went on an ultraviolet light system for disinfecting the auditorium, the dressing rooms and even the costumes.
And the performers themselves are not exempt from these new rituals: As well as respecting the safety distance and protective partitions, the musicians must undergo regular tests and wear masks, except for the players of wind instruments.
“We can and we must” put on these performances, Spain’s Culture Minister Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes told AFP, who wants to show that culture “is a safe space”.
But the pandemic has forced some venues to temporarily shut, such as Barcelona’s feted Liceu Opera House, which closed its doors in November.
Under the combined pressure of nationwide curfews, public anxiety and economic pressures, many cultural venues are fighting for their survival.
According to Javier Olmedo, director of “Noche en vivo” association which represents 54 concert halls in the Madrid region, “Eighty percent have not opened since March”.
Many initiatives to bring people back to theaters and concert halls have popped up on social networks, tagged #SafeTheatre or #CultureisSafe, insisting they have not been linked to any outbreaks.
Marta Rivera de la Cruz, deputy head of cultural affairs in Madrid’s regional government, readily acknowledges it is “concert halls and live music venues that are facing the most difficult challenge”, saying they will need the vaccine to be widely adopted “to get back on their feet”.
Until then, the authorities are looking at rapid virus tests.
In Barcelona, 500 people attended a standing-only concert, grouped very close together but wearing masks, who had been previously tested in the context of a clinical study carried out in December.
Eight days later, there was no sign of any infection.
It’s an idea that could prove to be “the safest way to reactivate the entertainment sector”, says infectious diseases specialist Boris Revollo, who led the study.