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
Andres Rodriguez

Tchaikovsky "Eugen Onegin"
© Juan Millán T.
Teatro Municipal de Santiago

Wagner "Lohengrin"
© Juan Millán T.
Teatro Municipal de Santiago
About international exchange

When we in Japan think of Chilean opera we remember the set for the performance of Nabucco at the New National Theater in Tokyo a few years ago. I heard that set was created in a theater in Chile. Is it normal to export stage designs?
Indeed, the New National Theater of Tokyo bought the Nabucco production which was produced and built up completely in our theater shops and then performed in our Teatro Municipal. At the present we are thinking a lot about renting and selling several of our recent productions. At our theater we have little space for storing or collecting sets, costumes and props. Also, compared to European theaters, we can supply sets at a much lower cost. For operas like Othello, Gioconda, Aida or Il Trovatore, it costs a European theater for a new production between USD 500,000 to USD 1 million. We are talking for a full new production with sets, costumes and props. In Chile we can do it for about one-tenth of that cost. Our production work is of very high quality, which is why we are able to get good contracts. We are selling right now productions to places like Dallas, Washington and Oviedo in Spain. For Washington we just sold the full production of La Clemenza di Tito. In the past we have also done set productions for a Cosi Fan Tutte directed by Hampe and a Pear Fishers production by R. Oswald. Now, we just sold our “Lohengrin” production to Dallas and also our beautiful production of Lucia di Lammermoor was sold to Oviedo’s opera house in Spain.

That means your theater must be creating some very large things for export. Doesn’t it?
Yes. The quality is good, though you might not call it export product in the traditional sense like Chilean wines or salmons.

How did the production of Nabucco end up coming to the New National Theater in Tokyo?
When it became known that our theater was going to do a new production of Nabucco, a representative from the New National Theater came and saw the production. It seemed that there was immediate interest because there were some direct negotiations about the cost of bringing the set to Japan. It turned out that the set as it was didn’t meet Japan’s fire regulations, so we had to take it back to the workshop and make the necessary changes to meet the regulations before we shipped it to Tokyo.

I see. So, this is a regular business for you, isn’t it?
Yes. With the exception of nearby Buenos Aires (Argentina) we do production trades with several Latin America and USA opera houses. With Europe is different and the reason why we don’t exchange too much with Europe is because of the high expenses involved. But Oviedo, Spain, is now buying us a great Emilio Sagi’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor and this is the start of new business with them. European theaters have to know that we produce excellent quality at very low cost compared with their costs in Europe. In our case, we can make sets and costumes by ourselves for less than it costs to bring one in from overseas so that we don’t import productions from Europe. It is a better deal for to construct the same European production here.

Don’t you have any international exchange with the other countries of South America?
Yes, we do. We are now trying to create an association for South America. We have a strong relationship with Buenos Aires already, and it is the same with Montevideo in Uruguay. We are expanding our theater relations with Colombia and Brazil as well. And, we are trying to build relationships with the smaller theaters doing opera in Argentina. We just started, however. At our theater we plan well ahead into the future, but at many other theaters in South America, there is not really much long-term planning being done which might involve a serious disadvantage.

About cultural exchange with Japan

Do you plan any projects involving Japan in the future?
We have received major grants from the Japanese government three times in the past 15 years. On 1988 we received a great donation of lighting and sound equipment for the stage. Another one was for the supply of instruments to our orchestra in 1993. That donation was made through the “Friends of the Teatro Municipal”, a private corporation who works very close with the theater. In 2005 we got a new sound and video system thanks to a grant from Japanese government, so we have been able to install the latest music and video devices inside the theater. The third grant was for the Keita Asari’s production of Madame Butterfly in 2001. Mr. Asari has in Japan his own version of the same Madame Butterfly’s production he did for Teatro alla Scala di Milano in 1986 which is for me the most beautiful production of this opera in the entire world. In 1986, I saw that production and was moved by its beauty and quality. I had flown all night to reach Milano from Santiago and did go straight to the theater to see it, and I was so inspired by the production that I went to see it again the next day with a different cast. That was when I first learned about Mr. Asari. After that when I visited Japan on personal business, I happened to go and see the production of Lion King. When I asked who had directed such a technically outstanding production, I recognized the name Asari on the program and realized the next day that it was the same person who had directed Madame Butterfly in Milano. That was when I knew that I had to meet this great theater man. That was how it all started. A meeting that had been scheduled for 15 minutes ended up going on for two hours, and at the end he said he would be glad to give his Butterfly production for us. I was thrilled, but I told him that we didn’t have the funds to pay for his efforts. Then he said that he would ask no director’s fee, and Shiki funded part of the team that Mr. Asari sent to Chile. And the result was a big achievement. The public and the critics loved the production.

I see.
Two years ago, our staff started planning a special season of events to celebrate next year’s 150th anniversary of the founding of our theater. When I thought about which of the numerous beautiful productions we have presented in recent years have had the biggest impact on our audience, my answer was Asari’s production of Madame Butterfly. So I decided to ask him for permission to mount it again and he consented. The reason that I came to Japan this time was to ask the various organizations that helped finance the production for their support. It will cost a lot to fly the staff over to Chile, but a 150th anniversary comes only once in a lifetime.

When are the performances planned for?
The plans call for September, 2007. September has a double significance, one being the 150th anniversary of our theater, an event that we very much to commemorate with Asari’s Madame Butterfly. The other is 110th anniversary of the establishment of commerce between Japan and Chile. I think this is an excellent opportunity to bring a Japanese stage to Chile. The Japanese embassy in Santiago has also been very cooperative, although we still have a couple of hurdles to clear in order to realize this event.

We hope it will be realized. Thank you very much for your time.
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