The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Andres Rodriguez
Mr. Andres Rodriguez
Born in Santiago, Chile, Andres Rodriguez is General and Artistic Director of the Municipal Theater of Santiago. He graduated from the Law Department of the Catholic University of Chile in 1978 and then studied at the Benedetto Marcello School of Music in Italy in 1979. In addition to serving as member of the Board of several Cultural organizations in Chile, he also sits on the judging comities of various contests in the arts field. He is frequent recipient of various invitations from the governments of the U.S., France, Germany and other countries in arts and cultural affairs. He is recipient of Medallion of the Cross of the 1st Order from the German government (1998). In Chile he is recipient of the Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue’s Medal (1997) and the Pablo Perez Zanartu Award (2004). He assumed his present post as General and Artistic Director of the Municipal Theater of Santiago in 1986 after being appointed as Executive and Artistic Director on 1981.
He visited Japan in September, 2006, for the purpose of meeting with representatives of organizations in the fields of culture and the arts to exchange opinions on exchange in the arts between Japan and Chile and to study and observe traditional Japanese arts.

Municipal Theater of Santiago
Municipal Theater of Santiago
Municipal Theater of Santiago

Verdi "Othello"
© Juan Millán T.
Teatro Municipal de Santiago

© Teatro Municipal de Santiago
Presenter Interview
One of South America's oldest and most active theaters, the Municipal Theater of Santiago, approaches its 150th anniversary 
Many of the theaters of South America date back to the late 19th century, when economies prospered with the development of abundant natural resources and later as immigrants from Europe came to escape the devastation of the two world wars. The year 2007 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Municipal Theater of Santiago, in the capital of Chile, a country that stretches over more than half of South America’s Pacific coast. The theater’s General and Artistic Director, Andres Rodriguez, speaks about the activities of one of the oldest theaters in the southern hemisphere.
(Interviewer: Yawara Watanabe, music critic)

Main activities of the Municipal Theater

Would you give us a brief explanation of the history and present status of the Santiago Opera Theater?
Our Opera Theater is one of the oldest in South America. Construction began in 1853 and the Opera Theater opened on September 17, 1857. So, next year will be our momentous 150th anniversary. The Teatro Solis in Montevideo, Uruguay, is one year older and it is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Our theater has a full season of opera, ballet and concerts and we have a permanent chorus, ballet company and orchestra as well as the necessary studios and workshop facilities to enable us to prepare all kinds of productions. The building is beautiful 1,500-seat opera theater built in the French and Italian baroque style. The interior is finished in warm reds and gold. Since it is an old opera house, it needs technically to be updated, but in the technical aspect there are some limitations because of the structure of the stage and the limited wings next to it.

So, is your Municipal Theater basically an opera theater?
Opera is the most popular and has a large audience, so that is what is expected of our theater most. In addition to our opera season we also have a great ballet season and a symphonic season on our year schedule. And, we have one, our own orchestra that fills all the demands of these season schedules.

How many people are there on the theater staff, including the backstage technicians?
In total in our theater we have approximately 400 people working permanently.
We have a chorus of 60 people, an 82-person orchestra, and a 55-person ballet company. There is also a ballet school and if you include that staff there are altogether 65 people in the ballet. Then we have the technicians and the administrative staff. Although there is an opera season but there is no opera company as such. We have an orchestra and a chorus and every season we plan opera productions and we search for appropriate types contracts with soloists in Chile and from other countries. We have no full-time soloists. We have auditions prior to each season. And we choose strictly on the basis of the singer’s quality, without regard to age or nationality.

Are you the one that makes the choices?
Yes, but I have a team who works closely with me. The board of directors makes the decision on every season’s budget and they give the final approval for the seasons. And, although next year will be an exception because it is an anniversary year, the annual budget doesn’t vary much.

What kinds of people sit on the board of directors?
They are business and culture people of influence. Some are directors of large companies. And, they are people with cultural appreciation and some of them with knowledge of music. Some of them are people I see almost as often as my own staff. The important job of the Board of Directors is to maintain the overall balance. The Chairman of the Board is the Mayor of Santiago.

Was it the Mayor who appointed you as Artistic Director?
Yes. I am a lawyer by profession. Then, when I was studying music in Italy, the Mayor of Santiago at that time convinced me to come back to Chile and to start working for the advancement of music there. The first things I did were to ask for an increase in budget and a re-building of the orchestra and the ballet company. It was also the time to start working in a major project that was new for Chile: the establishment of a professional chorus in the theater. We started with 30 people and then the number of singers was increased to 40, and today we have a full chorus of 60 people.

What languages are your theater performances in?
All our opera performances are presented in their original languages. When we did a production of Jenufa, for example, it was performed in the original Czech. A German opera is sung in German and Britten is sung in English. We have been using subtitles in our performances for 20 years now. I saw subtitles being used for the first time in Houston in 1984 and immediately after that we had a system installed in our theater in Santiago. That created a bit of an uproar at the time. People complained that subtitles weren’t necessary because the opera audience already knew the contents of the drama or the plot. But, I thought it was necessary in order to get a broader audience coming to the opera. Today, subtitles have become the norm and, contrarily, it is considered unusual when a theater doesn’t have subtitles, isn’t it?

In Japan, the New National Theater in Tokyo doesn’t have an orchestra of its own. What do you think about the opinion that an opera house without its own orchestra can’t put on good operas?
I can’t even imagine our opera theater not having an orchestra of its own. It is the same with our ballet company and our chorus. It would be impossible to mount our season schedule of performances without one. Nonetheless, I can also understand the approach of the New National Theater, because Tokyo has numerous orchestras. But, for an opera company there is nothing better than having your own people that you can work with constantly. Prosperously, it has been 51 years since our orchestra was formed, and before it was the University of Chile’s Symphonic orchestra which performed at our theater regularly. Other than that, the opera performances at 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were on the hands of foreign companies who were touring on South America. Then it changed slowly and now we have our own musical forces and we have built a full theater with a complete orchestra, ballet and chorus and all workshops to produce our own productions.
The problem with our orchestra today, however, is some benefits they had acquired over the years which became very expensive and made the orchestra very rigid on its way of working. We had to constantly be negotiating with them over benefits, and last season the orchestra called a strike during our scheduled performances of Othello. The Board of Directors tried to deal with the situation quickly, because we can’t have these problems affecting the interests of our audience and our sponsors. The strike during the Othello performances happened when the public was already in the theater. The Board proposed that a new set of operating rules would be necessary before we could begin functioning properly again, and about half of the members of our orchestra accepted the new contract terms. We are now auditioning new members for the coming season.

Status of the performing arts in Chile

Could you tell us about the status of theaters in Chile?
There are numerous theaters and theater companies in Chile. There are at least 15 to 20 theater companies, including the University of Chile and the Catholic University Theaters, which present a combination of classic theater like Shakespeare and Moliere with modern pieces. However, I believe that the larger audience likes contemporary theater. But those are theaters dedicated to drama, not for performing arts. Overall, the theater audience spans a wide demographic and each of the theaters is blessed with a large audience. We have some theaters for performing arts in the northern part of the country that are quite old, like the one in city of Iquique. As a producer of nitrates like Chile saltpeter, the northern part of the country was very prosperous in the period up until World War I when German interests were developing new products. There was also a large theater in Valparaiso, but it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906. There is a beautiful theater in Via del Mar, a city next to Valparaiso and now there is a new theater in Temuco in the southern part of the country and there are also theaters in the central city of Talca and in Punta Arenas in the Chilean Patagonia.
However, these theaters have no workshops or permanent orchestras, ballet companies or choruses. We are the only theater in the country that operates large companies of its own. For this reason, our companies frequently tour throughout Chile, and we make efforts to educate the regional theaters and encourage them to acquire trained technical staff.

Is it your operas that tour the country?
Since it is very expensive to tour with a full opera company, we do perform sometimes out of Santiago but not as much as we would like to. We have presented full operas in Temuco, Via del Mar, Puerto Montt and Talca, but most of our touring performances are ballet, using taped music, and chamber music groups. For example, one of our recent ballet productions in which the dancers perform in their own body painted, toured Valparaiso and Punta Arenas and was invited afterwards to perform in Venice, Italy before finally returning for a performance in Santiago this year. In addition, our ballet company made two tours to the northern part of the country and then they performed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our choir will perform in the far south of Chile next November.

In some sense of the term, it seems that you are functioning as a sort of national theater.
Yes. We constantly receive requests from theaters around the country for classical music performances including ballet, opera an orchestra concerts. Since there is no real national theater, we must secure private-sector sponsorship for our domestic tours. Chile is 4,000 kilometers from north to south, so airfares are very expensive for such tours. Still, we make many tours and our orchestra performs throughout the country, from north to south.

Does the Chilean government have any plans to create a national theater or a national opera company?
There is great interest in culture in our country, but there is no national theater. It was only two years ago when the Ministry of Culture finally became independent from the Ministry of Education. And they are very supportive to our activities.

Is there any idea in Chile to link the regional theaters into a national theater network?
I am not a politician, but it is clear that this is the direction things are moving in. And, we are also involved in the training of lighting crew and other technical staff people which all theater needs. These people, once trained, must be paid regularly for the work they do, but the regional theaters continue to insist that they don’t have the budget to pay these technicians. In order for these trained technicians to be paid, the regional organizations have to get government funding from the local municipalities, the Ministry of Culture or to apply for public funds dedicated to promote culture. However, this type of system is only just beginning to be put in place.
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