The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
One of South America's oldest and most active theaters, the Municipal Theater of Santiago, approaches its 150th anniversary

© Teatro Municipal de Santiago

Mozart "Don Giovanni"
© Juan Millán T.
Teatro Municipal de Santiago
Offering a variety of program series

Getting back to the subject of your Municipal Theater, since you don’t have your own opera company per se, do you have to find soloists, directors, costume designers, etc., for each production?
Yes. Regarding the soloists, we arrange for a mix of internationally renowned soloists and local soloists to fill the roles of each opera. It is the same for the production team. We do have in Chile excellent designers for both scenery and costumes so that we work a lot with them. The only thing we are interested in is quality. If we believe they have the ability, we will contract Chilean artists as well as international ones.

You have had productions directed by big-name international directors like Michael Hampe. Was the production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni that he directed at your theater one that he had done previously somewhere in Europe?
It was a new production specifically for our theater. Hampe has directed numerous works for us. He has directed Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, The Magic Flute, Cosi Fan Tutte and this year it was Don Giovanni. He has done some of these same operas at several European and American theaters like Teatro alla Scala di Milano and in Salzburg (Cosi Fan Tutte, for instance) Next season we plan to mount once again his beautiful The Magic Flute production. For the productions that Hampe directs for us we have local designers doing the stage settings and costume design, and the lighting is also done by Chilean technicians.

In other words, you are constantly engaged in international exchange in your productions.
Exactly, and it is the same with the soloists we use. We mix international names with local singers with only one characteristic: good quality. We belong to an international opera network through which we have brought to our stage renowned international soloists, including ones who have performed at your New National Theater in Tokyo and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Could you tell us about the makeup of your theater’s audience?
It includes all types of people, from adults and seniors to young people and children. And, we offer a variety of series to cater to the different age groups. For Example, we have a membership series for students of age 25 and under. It is primarily for university students aged 18 to 25 and its purpose is to get more young people coming to the theater to create and build up the new audiences for the future. Before the concert, the conductor, the soloist or someone else will meet with the students and explain to them what they should be listening for during the two hours of the performance they are about to hear. This series has been very successful and we are now expanding it to include a youth ballet series and one for opera lovers as well.

Do these youth series utilize condensed versions of the works?
No. They see the full version in the same productions as our international series. However, the tickets are priced far less expensively compared to the international series, at just about $2 per performance as opposed to about $20 for our regular series members. This is because we don’t want to create an exclusive situation that prevents anyone from coming to the theater. We want these young people to mature into adults who have the experience of listening to classical music and seeing classical ballet and opera.
We also have a children’s series. For this, we offer works like Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Coppelia, all of which we condense into versions that last about an hour, so they remain within the children’s attention span. In one of the programs of this series the Air Force Symphonic Band plays movie theme music for the children. All of the performances of this children’s series are scheduled on for noon Sunday so they finish before lunch.

Do the children come as school classes, or do you just sell tickets as a children’s series?
At times our marketing representatives go to the schools and encourage participation in the program, but basically we simply sell tickets to those wishing to participate. It is always a problem for parents what to do with their children on Sunday mornings. The parents want to sleep late, but the children wake up early, as usual (laughs).

Please tell us about your main program of opera productions.
We mount six opera productions a year. These include our international series with internationally renowned soloists and performances of the same productions using Chilean casts. In this way we give local artists a chance to perform. The directors and producers for these local-cast productions are the same as for the international-cast productions and done concurrently so that the local artists learn a lot from the experience. For particularly difficult roles like Othello, we brought in some foreign artists for the cast. You can not find always in Chile the right voices for all the heavy or the difficult repertoire. So that sometimes we have to invite some guests artists even for the local casting.

So, you don’t put any restrictions on nationality for your local casts?
Basically the local cast is always Chilean, but sometimes there is a problem in maintaining quality. That is when we will bring in foreign artists. In short, we have four performances of each production in our international series and two or three with the local cast. Among them there are the youth series performances with local cast. Therefore, in a case like our recent Othello production we had 7 performances in total: four performances for our international series including one performance for the sponsor, three for the subscribers, one youth series performance and 2 local cast performance for the subscribers at reduced prices. So there are six or seven performances for each title of our productions that will pay completely for the production costs.
In another field of the performing arts, our ballet company is directed now by Marcia Haydee, a great star in the ballet world who was formerly the artistic director with the Stuttgart Ballet Company for 25 years and a superstar dancer of her generation. She now lives in Chile and thanks to her work and leadership our ballet company is now in excellent condition.

Commissioning new works

Does your theater commission any new works?
We have produced several new works for our ballet company. Next year we will be producing a new work and two years ago we had a successful production in which Puccini’s music for Madame Butterfly was arranged for ballet. The costuming made use of beautiful kimonos. Also, Marcia Haydee recently did a ballet adaptation for the full score of Bizet’s Carmen. The voice parts were performed by instruments such as flute or violin. As for the case of opera, we did a world premiere in 1998 by the Chilean composer Sergio Ortega, a piece called “Splendour and death of Joaquin Murieta”, based on poet Pablo Neruda’s only theater piece with the same name. Nowadays, we have commissioned a new opera to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of our opera theater which should be performed in January of 2008. The tentative title is “White Wind” and it was commissioned to a young team of Chilean artists leaded by the composer Sebastian Errazuriz to create an opera that deals with a tragic event that happened in Chile two years ago. The sudden advent of winter caught a corps of young soldiers in a fierce snowstorm while on a training mission in the mountains. They were trapped where no help could get to them and 18 people were lost in the storm.

Whom did this “young team” consist of?
It is a young composer and producer of about age 30. They have a strong staff but it is certain to be a difficult task. There is a large fund called the National Arts Foundation that is providing funds for the project. The opera production staff applied for a grant and was awarded one. They received a year and a half of government funding that will support them while they are working on the opera and made the commission possible. We also applied for a grant for staging the performances. It is a kind of investment. We have to demonstrate the audiences that this will be a good new opera and to persuade them to come and to see it. But it is always difficult to bring people to come to the theater to see a new contemporary opera work. It is a big challenge so that we need the public funding to support the entire project.

Can you tell us about the new ballet works you have produced?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the new works we produced is Painted Bodies. There are no costumes and no set. The bodies of the dancers are completely covered in painting. There are projections of birds of the Andes and the great condors on the stage and the dancers dance like birds.
It is a mixture of dance, films, projections and sounds. It is a great piece and it won great reviews when it was performed at La Biennale in Venice, Italy one year ago.

Does the choreography employ traditional ballet?
No. The Chilean Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda created an imaginary bird’s world from the poet’s imagination, and the choreography is based on that story. Three young Chilean choreographers did the choreography and they work with Chilean painters. Finally the piece was premiered two years ago. There was a successful European debut performance of the work in Venice last year.

There is also a new opera by the composer Sergio Ortega based on the writings of Neruda as well, isn’t there?
Neruda is a great poet. His work has always had a great influence on the arts in Chile. The work that Sergio Ortega composed based on Neruda’s texts back in the 1960s is a theater work interjected with musical interludes. While he was still alive, Neruda asked Ortega to make a full opera from his work. The work premiered at our theater in 1998. At first we produced it separately from our regular opera season, but in 2003 we included it as part of our season schedule, and two weeks after the performance in Santiago, the production traveled to Finland’s Savonlinna Opera Festival, where it was very well received.
It is a very South American work. It blends together theater, music, great choral ensembles and musical aspects that makes it a very demanding work for the singers to perform, and there is also a part that requires a very large chorus. Ortega is a master of compositions for chorus, and some of the at least five chorus pieces in this opera are among Ortega’s masterpieces. This is one of the reasons that it had such a big impact in Europe.
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