Madrid's opera house in comedy of errors

Spain has spent nearly 10 years and more than pounds 100m refurbishing Madrid's opera house, the Teatro Real. But with plans advanced for a grand reopening this autumn, the authorities have suddenly discovered the seats are wrongly aligned. Opera lovers will find themselves gazing not at the stage but at the head of the person in front.

The theatre's board of governors has blamed the architect. Other horrors denounced by the board include air conditioning equipment that overhangs the grand entrance on the square facing the Royal Palace and scene-shifting gear that interrupts the view from the royal box.

The architect said that staggering the seats in the stalls would mean that the aisles would be ragged, "which would look odd".

The theatre has been dogged by misfortune since it was built in 1850. In the 1920s it was devastated by fire and during the Civil War it was blown upwhile being used as an ammunition store. Reopened in 1966 as a concert hall, it was closed again in 1988 for restoration as an opera house.

It was meant to be ready in 1992, the year Madrid was Europe's City of Culture, but setbacks delayed opening until 1995.

On 18 November 1995, five days before the Socialist culture minister, Carmen Alborch, was due to show MPs and journalists round the restored theatre, the central chandelier, weighing almost three tons, crashed to the ground.

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