Barcelona Opera Burns; Efforts to Rebuild It Begin



Barcelona's famed Liceo opera theater was destroyed by fire yesterday, but before the 145-year-old neoclassical building had finished burning, Catalonia's Prime Minister, Jordi Pujol, vowed that within two years the opera house "would rise again from its ashes."


After years of bickering among regional, local and national officials and private owners for a planned restoration of the opera house that was to begin within a year, authorities were coordinating fund collecting efforts, including contributions from the European Union's disaster fund program.


Mayor Pascual Maragall, who won a reputation for efficiency during the 1992 Olympics here, announced a fund-raising subscription today, urging Barcelona's major businesses to contribute to the cost of reconstruction, estimates of which range from 4 billion to 10 billion pesetas ($28 million to $71 million).


A Barcelona newspaper, El Periodico, opened a bank account for public subscriptions. The effort is to be supported by a private national television network, Antena 3. The network said it would contribute an unspecified amount of cash to the fund, in addition to free advertising. Following a day of prominent Barcelona businessmen vowing support, Emilio Botin, the chairman of Banco de Santander, handed a 100 million peseta check ($709,200) to Mr. Pujol. The Liceo will receive 2 billion pesetas ($14 million) from insurance companies.


Firefighters managed to salvage the Liceo's art collection but a collection of 18th-century cellos was destroyed. Editorials in today's papers criticized the delay of fire prevention systems in the Liceo. Fire officials had earlier warned that the building was a potential fire hazard.


"A symbol of Barcelona is gone," sobbed the soprano Montserrat Caballe on national television. Wiping away tears she vowed: "Our great-great-grandparents rebuilt it in a year after a fire in 1861. With technology we can do it in less time."