An opera performance at Madrid’s Teatro Real was cancelled on Sunday after ticketholders protested over the lack of social distancing in place.

The venue’s performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball was abandoned due to fan outrage at the rows of more than a dozen people without any gaps between them, one audience member said.

She told Spanish newspaper El Pais: “Some of the seats had been closed off in the stalls, but in the upper circles, where we were all squashed together, there were whole rows of 15 people right next to each other.”

The 1,746-seat Teatro Real maintained in a statement that capacity was at 51.5 per cent, meaning around 900 seats were occupied. Under the regulations of the Madrid regional government, the theatre is allowed to be at 75 per cent capacity.

The venue said in a statement following the show that many members of the audience began to stamp their feet and clap to express their anger at the lack of social-distancing measures. The protests led to the theatre announcing that the performance would be delayed for people to leave if they wished and ask for a ticket refund.

However, the statement indicates that while many people were found new seats, a small group carried on their protests and after two failed attempts to begin the opera, the decision was made to abandon the show.

The Teatro Real has said that it will open an investigation “into this regrettable incident and will take the necessary measures so that future performances take place normally.”

Many of the disgruntled theatre-goers took to social media to express their anger about the evening, with Spanish writer Rosa Montero Tweeting: “The Teatro Real opera was cancelled due to the protests over the overcrowding of people.

“I was there and it was shameful. There was a total lack of distancing [measures]. And at this time, with 37 areas restricted! We love opera but not like this.”

The incident occurred shortly after the regional government’s decision to put 850,000 residents in some of Madrid’s poorest neighbourhoods into a partial lockdown from Monday. Residents in those areas are only allowed to enter and exit the zones on work, educational, legal or medical grounds. Public and private gatherings have been limited to six people and parks have been closed.

The Spanish capital currently accounts for roughly a third of the country’s 640,000 cases and 30,000 deaths.

In July, Teatro Real became the first opera house in the world to see audiences return. The staging of La Traviata included COVID-19 measures including the crowd of 869 each having their temperature taken before being allowed in and wearing a mask at all times. The venue also installed no-touch features in the washrooms and the intermission was extended to 40 minutes to avoid crowds or long queues.

Image: Fss.fer / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Edited for size