As Dai Lowe is in England this weekend,
we have been fortunate enough to prevail upon the Australian Art critic,
Robert Hughes, author of a major study of the Barcelona of Antoni Gaudí
i Cornet, to contribute some thoughts on our fair city at the opposite
corner of Spain.
The Shock of the Loo
Well, I’ve had a look round the
old place and, frankly, it’s a bit of a dunny. I’m not suggesting that
the English should come and do a repeat performance of 1596 and flatten
the joint, but it’s of only passing and I did say passing interest to
your highly cultured art and architecture critic, even if he does have
to live in America.
The Shock of the Brew
It can’t be denied that the general layout and style of the place and even
a few of the individual buildings are
worth getting a sticky beak for
if you find yourself stranded here but I’d rather just concentrate on
one of the sods for now. Well, to be honest I’d rather concentrate on
a few of the bars but I do need those negatives off Mr Bloody Lowe,
so let’s take a look at the magnificently quirky Gran Teatro Falla.
Named after the city’s most famous
son, Manuel de Falla (1876-1946: a fair dinkum composer, for the benefit
of all you pig-ignorant Poms), it was built in the late Nineteenth Century,
when a number of local residents were knocked down to create a fine
plaza, now bounded by a hospital to the south, a couple of good
bars and a second rate pizza parlour to the east, the solid baroque
almshouses of the Casa Fragela to the north and, returning to
the theme of salubrity, the University School of Medicine to the west,
the oldest School of Medicine in Spain, despite the functional 50's building,
begun in 1973.
The Shock of the Hue
Its garish rose brick
exterior, unrelieved by the occasional patch of white, is fundamentally
rectangular and in that immature style of Art Nouveau known as Mujahedeen
(like Mudejar but more forceful). However, once inside this box
of Turkish delight and to either side of the would-be-magnificent atrium,
the visitor is surprised to find gently curved corridors, leading round
to the various entrances to the oval auditorium. This contains stalls
surrounded by tiers similar to those in London’s Royal Albert Hall,
to which this building seems like a kind of kid brother, with the stalls
circle and grand tier entirely given over to boxes. The sides of the
upper circle are similarly boxed but with a set of more democratic seats
to the rear, more like the Royal Opera House (for the benefit of all
you insular bloody Poms).
The ‘Gods’ or Paraiso (Paradise)
contains precipitous wooden box seating. Individual places are unreserved
and interesting melees ensue, as punters form different ideas about
which steps are for buttocks and which for feet. On busy nights, this
regularly leads to bodies plummeting down into the stalls, causing general
amusement, shouts of olé from the boxes as they pass, and a hasty
visit from an usherette, to collect a surcharge for the unintended upgrade.
The Shock of the Pew
The ceiling is a gloriously naff
affair painted in a mock-rococo 18th Century style by a frustrated impressionist.
Like the seating and the boxes, it obviously reflects the tastes and
pretensions of the Gaditano bourgeoisie of those days a damn sight better
than those of the artist or the truly cultured world to which he yearned
to belong but which increasingly lay on the opposite side of the globe.
It provides a pretty good trompe l’oeil effect for one lucky
person sitting in the dead centre of the stalls and a feeling of slight
vertigo for anybody else who looks up — without being caught smack between
the eyes by a falling pauper.
The stalls seats are solid, dark
wooden affairs with a comfortable art deco feel to them. Nice seats
but covered with fading plush red velvet, when, as the old pre-PC joke
says, the management would no doubt rather see them covered with arses.
The Shock of the Few
On my first visit, there was an excellent gig, given as
part of the Festival Internacional de Musica Manuel de Falla,
a series of four concerts containing no music whatever by their namesake
and indeed, precious little by any of his countrymen or mine. But it
was Internacional and the combo that evening was the Chamber
Orchestra of Kiev who gave a fine rendition of various numbers ranging
from Mozart to Shostakovitch . But despite this and the absurdly low
ticket price of six dollars, the good burghers, and I did say burghers
of Cádiz couldn’t get a party together to fill more than a sixth of
the 1,200 seats (that’s about two hundred backsides, for the benefit
of all you stupid Poms).
The stage had been boxed in with
some charming plywood partitions to improve the acoustics but the warm
sound this provided was more than compensated for by the insulation
of the building as a whole. It could be said that in a hot climate there
is a balance to be struck between letting air in and keeping noise out
and the Falla’s builders had obviously gone for a compromise
solution, failing equally spectacularly on both counts. The shrieking
of swifts did nothing for Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro; and
Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence was not improved by the ubiquitous
motorbikes — not only their unsilenced engines but also their riders’
belching demonstrations and the fits of girlish laughter this invariably
induced from the pillion.
The dour conductor had looked
a bit peeved to see such a small turnout and it was a relief that we
were only faced with a chamber orchestra. Even then, had they decided
to attack, it would have been a pretty close fight. Nonetheless, neither
this nor the fact that the hall only seemed able to afford enough chairs
for the cellists, prevented them from giving us a selection of lively
encores to send us home smiling.
The Shock of the True
This being Spain, there were plenty of latecomers, despite the concert
not starting until the relatively cool hour of nine. The woman next
to me had taken her seat at the same time as myself, with a quarter
hour to go before the start and I asked her how come she could be on
time when so many of her compatriots considered this a thing of no importance.
“Oh no, Señor,” she replied, “my
ticket is for last night’s concert but I met a friend on the
way and we got talking and …”
[Watch out for more in this series … Brian Sewell on Why Cádiz Cathedral
Should be Towed into the Atlantic and Sunk and Charles Windsor on
Monstrous Carbuncles of the 20th Century No 273, The Balneario de