"We shall rebuild it". That is
what the city of Barcelona said when, in 1861, just 14 years after it had been opened, the
Gran Teatre del Liceu burnt down for the first time. And that is exactly what happened in
Barcelona after the flames destroyed it again on the sad morning of 31 January 1994.
On 7 October, the city will have achieved its purpose. A century and a
half after its inauguration on Easter Sunday 1847, the new Liceu will once more be ready
to open its doors.
This will be another special day for Barcelona as it will recover one
of its most highly prized symbols, celebrated in a host of poems, novels and other works
of prose. A literary reference to the Liceu's prehistory turns up tangentially in one of
the poems in Pàtria by Jacint Verdaguer. The poet knew that, prior to 1835, the
land between La Boqueria and what is today the Hotel Orient had belonged largely to
convents and religious orders and that it had been confiscated during the revolutionary
period of the 1830s. The poem La palmera de Jonqueres recalls this in harsh tones
as Mossèn Cinto (Verdaguer) addresses himself to Barcelona, then growing haughtily and
proudly, to remind it that "You burnt down Saint Francis' artistic Dormitory/Of
Gothic cloisters you make squares and warehouses:/ The child sees a theatre made of its
parents' temple;/ Today you throw out the nuns, everywhere as yesterday the friars:/ Who
will you throw out tomorrow?".
Literature has always accompanied the history of this singular theatre.
Víctor Balaguer wrote some rhetorical lines commemorating the event that were printed on
tissue paper and given out among the audience the day it was inaugurated. Its rivalry with
the Teatre Principal was also portrayed, and ridiculed, by Serafí Pitarra in a poetical
outburst in two acts entitled Liceístas y cruzados.
These and many other subsequent works simply show that the Liceu is
much more than an opera house. It is an institution and an example of the dynamism of
Barcelona's civil society.
In time, the Gran Teatre del Liceu was to become the outstanding symbol
for music lovers in Barcelona. In fact, it is precisely this symbolic value which has
enabled it to rise up again from its ashes in all its splendour, on exactly the same site
as it stood before, with a similar shape, but now stronger and more modern.
In keeping with its symbolic character, the theatre will re-open with
the opera Turandot, the one that was due to be performed after Mathis der Maler,
which was being staged when the theatre was gutted by fire. Puccini's lyric drama will be
followed by The Makropoulos Case and Lucia di Lammermoor.
The Liceu is back on its feet thanks to the pride in their city felt by
all the inhabitants of Barcelona. This feeling is becoming more and more noticeable and is
what has made Barcelona's great transformation possible.
When the Liceu burnt down, many people who are by no means opera
enthusiasts felt they had lost a symbol of the city that belonged to them.
The Liceu is part of the irreversible process of rehabilitating the
city and recovering the pride in being from Barcelona. That is why, on the threshold of
the 21st century, the old Liceu, the Liceu we have always known, will once again be among
us in all its brilliance.