Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Romans, The Lyric, The Principal

They've been staging a theatre fair in Vilafranca, a festival of children's theatre. They do so each year. It's surprising perhaps that it is held in a backwater place like Vilafranca. There again, it isn't so surprising. Theatre is everywhere in Mallorca. From the humblest of village halls to the municipal auditoriums to the grand theatres of Palma, there are productions happening all the time. But they happen particularly in the autumn and winter, the seasons for Mallorca's theatre as they have been for at least 150 years.

This is not, to be frank, culture for the visitor or indeed the resident unfamiliar with the native tongue. But the culture of the theatre is. It has existed in Mallorca for two thousand years. You can still it and even sit in it. The Roman theatre of Pollentia in Alcudia is the oldest evidence of the stage on the island, though it may not have been the first. The Roman theatre in Palma was in the port area (as was). Various studies have established that it occupied a space from the southern end of the Paseo Borne. The Romans built theatres more or less next to the sea. In Alcudia, the sea once encroached to almost where the theatre is; the same would have been the case in Palma.

There is a vast gap in time between the theatres of the Romans and the theatres of relatively modern Mallorca. There is even greater time between the Palma Roman theatre and one that once stood roughly where the ancient one had: the Teatro Lírico, the Lyric Theatre. This opened in 1902. Its first production was an opera; Puccini's La Bohème. The performance was in February of that year, which was as it should have been. Winter was theatre time, as was autumn. Forty-nine years ago, on 2 November 1967, the Lyric staged its final production. It was, remarkably enough, La Bohème. The theatre was then demolished, thus completing a history of theatrical construction and replacement on the site; the Lyric had taken the place of the Teatro Circo Balear - half theatre, half circus.

During the period of its existence, the Lyric was one of two grand theatres in the city. The other was the Teatro Principal. It will be celebrating its 160th birthday next year. It opened in November 1857. Queen Isabel II was in attendance. It wasn't called the Teatro Principal, though. The current name had to wait until the 1868 revolution; it changed from having been the Teatro de la Princesa, after the Princess of Asturias. It also had to wait in order to be rebuilt; a fire completely destroyed it the year after it had opened. If you wonder why actors' suspicions mean they refer to the Scottish play, here was some evidence. The fire engulfed the theatre soon after a performance of Macbeth, albeit it was the opera rather than the play.

Next year will also mark the 350th anniversary of the original theatre. The Teatro Principal was once the Casa de las Comedias. There was, though, to be an absence of any humour some fifty years later; it became a headquarters and some time prison during the time of Felipe IV's Catalan repressions.

The theatre has recently released its autumn and winter programme. Rather in keeping with current political times, this is a more accessible schedule in terms both of price and of performance. It is moving to be more of a people's theatre, if you like, which was most certainly not how it once was.

The tradition of theatre was very much the preserve of the nobility. The Teatro Principal was described as a place for the "most select" of Palma, the nobility who would reside in the city in the winter but desert it in summer, meaning that the theatre only ever really opened in the winter. The tradition of the autumn-winter programmes have therefore endured, whereas the select nature of the theatregoers has not. So geared to the aristocracy was the theatre that there was a production expressly written for it. This featured a patriotic Mallorcan verse. It was in Castellano, as Castellano was the language of the upper class gentry. "Soy un mallorquín," it went and reeled off numerous surnames, ones identifiable as longstanding Mallorcan nobility - Rossiñols, Zafortezas, Villalongas and others.

Nowadays, as noted above, there are theatres and auditoriums all over the island, but the first of these auditoriums was, in a sense, to take the place of the demolished Lyric. Palma's auditorium opened in 1969. It was the first modern auditorium anywhere in Spain. It has a story all of its own.

No comments: