"Hospitals would like to have such rigorous COVID protocols"

The Royal Theater insists that the infections that disrupted last week's performances were not an outbreak. He also denies that they accumulate 90 positives, as it is known to the CGT union, or 60, as some workers compared with the Community of Madrid. He affirms that there are 25. This has been defended by the management of the Royal Theater this Wednesday at a press conference in which they have also presented their 2021-2022 strategic plan.

'La bohème' ends at the Royal Theater combining casts due to an outbreak of 60 accumulated infections

'La bohème' ends at the Royal Theater combining casts due to an outbreak of 60 accumulated infections

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On January 3, different union sources confirmed to this newspaper that there were more than 50 workers of the institution infected by COVID-19 and that this affected the latest representations of La Bohème, the famous Puccini opera that was scheduled for January 2, 3 and 4. The function of day 2 was canceled due to lack of testing and preparation of the substitutes, although the official statement referred to "the health crisis caused by COVID-19", without offering more information.

Those of 3 and 4 went ahead with interpreters of different castings, but with a diminished choir that was missing 30% of the voices: 17 of 52. The company to which the choir subcontracts, Intermezzo, did not replace the casualties and the Real changed the soloists for new ones the day before the performance. "Anyone with a knowledge of opera will tell the difference," lamented some of the workers.

Gregorio Marañón, president of the Teatro Real, considers that it has been an "anecdotal issue" and "that things are being done healthily well" at his institution. "It has become clear that there has been no outbreak, because an outbreak is when there is a common origin of these infections. Here there has not been, it has been a coincidence of cases," answered the highest representative in question time.

They insist that there are 25 infections because they do not have an orchestra, choir or other subcontracted sections and because they are the ones that were detected on January 3 in their emergency screening. The committee has been reporting positives to the company since December 22, with a copy to the Labor Prevention delegates, without receiving a response. CGT union sources have recorded a minimum of 90 cases in recent weeks. For its part, according to sources in the choir, the Ministry of Health confirmed at the beginning of January that the infections amounted to 60.

Until the time of the questions, neither Marañón nor its general director, Ignacio García-Belenguer, or its artistic director, Joan Matabosch, had mentioned the infections at the press conference. However, the president had highlighted his "rigorous" protocol against COVID-19 and the Teatro Real's medical advisory committee, made up of five health workers and headed by Santiago Moreno, head of infectious diseases at the Ramón y Cajal Hospital.

The latter has recorded a video, which has been broadcast in the press room, in which he states that "most of the cases have occurred outside the institution and there was no transmission within." Moreno repeats that there are 25 positives out of 450 (a number that, on the other hand, does include choir, orchestra and subcontractors). "The Teatro Real has taken pains to develop protocols against COVID-19 that guarantee safety, both for workers and for the public. A set of measures that many of us would want in our workplaces - hospitals - and that is not possible. ", has underlined.

The professionals contacted by this newspaper criticize that the Royal Theater and its subcontractor - in this case the head of the choir - "played" with the health of the workers on days 3 and 4. "It is very clear that the functions should not be held", said a singer of the choir to this newspaper. "They are mixing bubbles and they are skipping their own protocol of not combining casts," he said.

For his part, the artistic director, Joan Matabosch, has highlighted this Wednesday the courage of Real by suspending the function of 2 and continuing with the two successive ones: "Everyone envies us for having had the guts to push forward," he emphasizes . He assures that all the interpreters took the stage in the sanitary and artistic conditions to offer "an exceptional product". "The public perceived it that way," Marañón has also said, since the occupation of the functions of La Bohème it reached an average of 98.6%.

No changes to the COVID protocol

Gregorio Marañón has reported that in this last year 11,500 diagnostic tests worth 700,000 euros have been carried out and that they are done "on average every three days". "I doubt that there is a single institution in Spain that can say the same," said the president. Most of the cases found are asymptomatic, but require a minimum quarantine of seven days that can compromise, as has happened, some representations.

However, the entire choir, made up of fifty singers and where the highest number of infections is added, were not tested from August 23 to December 23. Representations of La Bohème they had started 11 days before. But both Marañón and its general director ignore these contagions -28, according to the union delegation-.

"The choir, although it is titular, does not belong to the Royal Theater, it is an external company. The evidence we have is that the infections never occurred at the Royal Theater, but in an external concert a few days before Christmas. Not because the protocols del Real did not work ", Ignacio García-Belenguer has justified. In addition, he thinks that the information that the singers were not tested in four months "is not true, correct or rigorous." "I want to verify it, but I have a reasonable doubt. And if so, I am convinced that it has a justification," replied the general director.

The Community of Madrid and the medical committee agree that they already wish that such rigorous COVID protocols existed in hospitals or even residences

Ignacio Garcia-Belenguer
- General Director of the Royal Theater

As for the infections of the workers, he assures that they have not occurred in a correlative way and that they have not had contact with each other. Any positive is immediately reported to the Community of Madrid, with whom they say they have a "very close relationship, because they are patrons of this house." "The Community of Madrid and the medical committee agree that the treatment of COVID in the Royal Theater is exceptional, and that they already wish that such rigorous protocols existed in hospitals or even in residences", added García-Belenguer.

When asked if they are considering reformulating the measures so that the same does not happen as in La Bohème –A diminished choir, substitutes without time to rehearse and the great figures of the first cast disappearing from functions - Matabosch has answered no. "The Royal Theater is not going to change the way we proceed. We are going to apply the protocol and take measures so that the functions continue. How are we going to do this? Well, the truth is that I have no idea, we have to look for covers and to people who can leave at any given time, "he acknowledged.

Everybody envies us for having the guts to push forward

Joan Matabosch
- Artistic director of the Royal Theater

The artistic director has also pointed out that "there was only one symptomatic case, a singer. All the others have found out that they were positive because we have done the test. That same day, there was a tenor doing a tremendous chest C", he recalls . He foresees that "the medical protocol will change chips in the near future, because there are many more cases but they are generally quite harmless," said the manager. Meanwhile, he assures that "if functions have to be canceled, it will not be the end of the world."

The Royal Theater has been one of the cultural institutions that has remained open for the longest time during the pandemic. They only closed the first four months of 2020. King Felipe VI even said that keeping it open was "a release" for Real workers, but has also reported criticism for not respecting safety distances and by the concealment of a score of infections among the artistic team in March 2021.

Union sources demand that there be more "honesty" on the part of the Royal Theater in the face of the public and transparency about their health situation in the face of the workers: "There are people leaving a lot of money in a box and they deserve to know which opera they are going to see and with what changes ", they demand. They also criticize that the Real refuses to count the positives of the choir and the orchestra as their own cases, but instead it does count its professionals among the 450 members of the staff to defend that only 25 of 450 have been infected.


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