Madrid opera erupts mid-performance as audience protests crowding in cheap seats

22 September 2020, 11:39

Verdi’s A Masked Ball performance abandoned after audience protest over lack of social distancing

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A Verdi opera was brought to a standstill at Madrid’s Teatro Real, as audience members condemned the venue’s seating arrangement amid a likely second coronavirus wave for Spain.

Coronavirus cases are rising again in Spain. And it seems anxiety around a second wave presented itself at the opera on Sunday night, as audience members at Madrid’s Teatro Real loudly protested a lack of social distancing, forcing the production to be called off.

One member of the audience attending the performance of Verdi’s opera Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) told local news there were rows of more than a dozen people without any empty seats between them.

“Some of the seats had been closed off in the stalls, but in the upper circles, where we were all squashed together, there were whole rows of 15 people right next to each other,” she told El País.

Writer Rosa Montero, who was in the stalls on Sunday night, said the situation was as bad down there. “In the first 10 rows of the stalls we were all jammed in and there wasn’t a single free space,” she wrote on Twitter. “It was more sheer incompetence than discrimination.”

Video footage posted by Montero shows the crowd slow clapping and calling for “suspension” and “security”.

Read more: Barcelona opera house reopens with a live audience of 2,292 plants >

In a statement, Teatro Teal said the venue had been operating at just 65 percent capacity and that 905 seats were occupied. The maximum capacity allowed in a Madrid theatre is currently 75 percent.

They sealed off some chairs and placed empty seats between each pair of occupied seats, the theatre added. There were no seat reservations, though audience members wore masks during the performance.

“A group of spectators clapped and shouted to express their disagreement with their places,” the statement read. “The protest continued even after loudspeaker announcements offering to reseat them or issue them with a refund.”

Teatro Real says it “greatly regrets what happened” but attributes the uproar to recent changes in Madrid’s Covid-19 regulations. The venue added spectators were offered the chance to switch seats or accept a refund, but a small group carried on protesting.

After two failed attempts to begin the first act, the curtain was brought down at 9.10pm.

Audience protests lack of social distancing at Madrid's Teatro Real
Audience protests lack of social distancing at Madrid's Teatro Real. Picture: Un Congrio/Twitter

It added: “The management of the Teatro Real will open an investigation to look into this unfortunate incident and the necessary measures will be taken to ensure that future performances can go ahead as normal.”

Police offers were called to the venue, and an internal investigation is ongoing.

The Teatro Real said on Monday some spectators had felt unsafe in their seats, “even if the current health regulations were scrupulously complied with, verified by the police who travelled to the venue last night.”

Read more: Soprano Anna Netrebko hospitalised with COVID-19 >

Audience at Teatro Real on Sunday night
Audience at Teatro Real on Sunday night. Picture: Arturo Navarro/Twitter

Madrid called in its military yesterday and parts of the city went into lockdown, as Spain faces a second wave of coronavirus.

Public and private gatherings are limited to six people and parks have been closed in the capital.

Some residents have been subject to limits on their movements, only allowed to exit those worst-hit areas for work, educational, legal or medical purposes.