Give it a try if… What Barcelona offers in terms of world-class performing arts leaves you hungry for more.
Steer clear if… Your main concern in summer is where to get the best bikini wax.
Every year, as I climb the steps leading up to Teatre Grec and reach its impeccable gardens, two feelings invariably take over: I am grateful for having the chance to savour its magic one more time, and bewilder at the idea that someone might not even know it exists. If you are one of them, wait no longer.
Out in the Open
Built on Montjuic in 1929, when the prettier sister of the current economic crisis was raging, Teatre Grec was modeled after a classic open-air Greek amphitheatre. It has turned into a symbol of the performing arts in Barcelona, and every summer it opens its doors to host part of the events of a festival which has widened its scope in the years by adding more and more locations in town. Theatre, music, dance, circus and more: several recognized international productions, complemented by a selection of top-class national projects, enrich the program of this festival, considered by many the peak of the cultural season in Barcelona. A responsive audience – mostly locals, joined by a solid expat segment – usually flocks to the Grec without reserve. They hardly forget to reach the gardens in advance to enjoy some food or a glass of cava and do some gossiping, catwalking or hunting for this year’s summer romance, making this a social event as much as a cultural one.
A Subprime Edition?
The crisis seems to have left its mark on this year’s edition. The 2012 Grec Festival will only last for the whole month of July, one or two weeks less than usual – and the prestige of some shows is perhaps a bit less patent, an inevitable reflection of a tighter budget. While a quick online check suggests that both Jane Birkin and Toquinho may have lost a bit of their shine lately, relative newcomers like Esperanza Spalding and respected veterans like Pascal Comelade ennoble a program that otherwise struggles to fly high in the musical department. Theatre looks more promising, with an ambitious production of “The Master and Margarita” and an Icelandic take on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” at Teatre Lliure among the jewels of the crown. Circus shows have apparently been emphasized (see “Le Grand C”), while dance proposals verge on the weak side, apart from shows like “Poppea//Poppea” at Mercat de Les Flors or “Concierto/Concepto” (do not miss either!).
Keep the Faith
The festival management – led by newly-appointed director Ramon Simó – has generally lowered prices this year, but also reduced some discounts (just 20% off any show if you see three or more), conceived an irritating redesign of price areas and allowed Tiquet Ramblas to turn the buying process at the box-office into a disgraceful obstacle race in which every possible detail has become a hassle. Yet as I said, never mind! It is always worth making the effort to work your way up to the Grec as often as you can afford – and the other locations are definitely worth a visit. So do your homework by studying the program (usually published in the second half of May, this time at the beginning of June), and buy the tickets with your most interesting and dependable friends a.s.a.p. to get good seats. Get there early on the chosen night/s, bringing a light jacket just in case; as you wait for the performance, pick a sandwich bar or a café in the gardens and let the summer in. Or even better, book a table with significant advance at the slightly upscale associated restaurant, which boasts amazing views and interesting food at a premium price. See you up there!
UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.
Visit Grec Festival – Official website.