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Garnet is adopted as the characteristic colour of the Liceu's new graphics
BY Jordi Casanovas

Even before the fire, the Liceu had started to undergo a significant change in image as exemplified by a new and very attractive design on the programmes. The graphic design study by Josep Bagā, in charge of programmes, was commissioned after the renewal of all graphic design aspects of the opera house, from posters and advertising flags to stationery and internal signalling. The new image of the Liceu, which was approved by the theatre management last spring, adopted garnet -Liceu garnet, as it has been called- as the basic colour. "This is a very intense red, which works very well graphically, providing a direct link to the world of the theatre and to the Liceu and evoking the velvet of the stage and of the seating", explained Josep Bagā.

The new graphic design for the posters and programmes of the Liceu is a combination of this colour with black and white and the striking photographs of Hugo Menduiņa, and is austere and very effective. "The principle underlining the change of image reflects the idea that for an opera house which is becoming public, opera should be considered to be, above all, a cultural phenomenon and not a luxury", according to the graphic artist. "But at the same time, in designing this change we have taken into account the respect for an institution more than a hundred years old. Thus, combining innovation and continuity, the new iconography of the Liceu combines completely new elements with inherited elements."

One of the cases which reveals this tension between the past and the present is the new design of the logotype of the opera house, the famous "L" surrounded by a crown of laurels. The letter remains identical, but the laurel has disappeared and in its place there is a simple circle. "The reason for this change is purely technical", says Bagā. "In a small scale, the laurel leaves are cramped up together and the symbol does not work. For this reason, a decision was taken to eliminate them. The result is a design which is fresh, direct and very contemporary."

Perejaume's "steep auditorium"

Painting and photography, two of the media habitually used by Perejaume (born in Sant Pol de Mar, 1957) are the techniques employed in the decoration of the eight medallions in the ceiling of the auditorium and the three panels over the arch of the proscenium. Perejaume’s project was the winner of a public competition in which four Catalan artists participated, and was selected by a jury consisting of Victōria Combalia, Carles Tatché, Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Rosa Caralt, and presided over by Ignasi de Solā-Morales.

A modified reproduction of the historic auditorium of the Liceu is the central motif of the décor conceived of by the artist, together with a representation, on the roof over the prescenium arch, of the former painting depicting a scene from Wagner's Valkyrie, featuring Wotan and the Valkyrie. Perejaume, linked to the poetic vanguard artists, Joan Mirķ, Antoni Tāpies and Joan Brossa, and local aesthetics such as the Catalan landscape movement of the nineteenth century, holds true in this work to the pillars of his creative thinking, concerned with the relations between reality and his artistic representation and the power of images as a reflection or metaphor.

The Liceu fire and subsequent reconstruction have inspired Perejaume to compose various literary texts, such as that entitled La platea abrupta, which he used to present his project for the decoration of the ceiling.

"In Catalonia, the Liceu represents more than merely a musical genre or a certain type of audience, it is the place of the representation, it is the Gran Teatre", he wrote. "The building, and especially its very location, embodies an imposing figurative machinery. This machinery is so powerful that in the fire of 1994 the theatre filled the entire country by means of the minuscule ashen pigmented fragments that returned the most varied scenes to their place of origin. Now, this enormous theatre, with its oblong, mountainous, precipitous auditorium, once again returns to the reconstructed opera house, an exact copy of the auditorium, in this theatre of theatres."

"Thus in the building on the Rambla, the theatre, to a large extent, possesses the architecture and it predates it. It is as if the author of the whole affair were the theatre itself, as if all of us who, to a greater or lesser extent, are involved in the project merely work under this authorship and interpret it according as we consider a theatre should be, but it is the theatre which, deep down, actually signs our works."

The concept of the Liceu as an instrument which created the particles that the fire had scattered throughout the country had already inspired Perejaume to write a long text, published in the autumn of 1995, to which the following extracts belong.

"The fire at the Liceu made us realise the immensity of the painting which came crashing down. The mise en nature of the Gran Teatre could be witnessed in the fragments of the opera house that fell on all different locations and objects in a radius of several kilometres. The iron structure of the theatre lent the shell of the building the appearance of a volcanic eruption. The previously confined air, saturated with representations, expanded in the midst of the outbreak of the storm.

"The inconsistency of that abrupt density of images in the interior of the institution augured such an event. Lavishly draped over various floors, the softness of the gold, velvet and embroidery fell victims to spectacular twists and folds. The slopes rose up in a shot, with a plethora of images and saturated with appearances; above the stage; a comb harboured a second floor of stage curtains with accretions that were added to the repertoire with each new performance. So it was not surprising that all of this yielded to another figurative field, to a new resting place.

"The cloudy night sky took away thousands of fragments of the opera house and dropped them at will. The Liceu was like one enormous painting that winged its way down from a great height, hovered at ground level, completely decomposed, swerving around all obstacles, dropping its fragments gradually, imperceptibly. The theatre, it could be said, remained intact -the facade, staircase, the Sala dels Miralls, Vall Ferrera, the Serra de Busa and the Garrigues region- and the specks of dust were simply like representations of a musée éclaté, the concept of museum viewing an entire region as if it formed part of a permanent exhibition".