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Spain's Musical Landmark Will Rise From the Ashes

OFFICIALS promised to rebuild the 145-year-old Gran Teatre del Liceu, destroyed by fire on Mon-day, less than a year before Spain's leading musical landmark was to close for a major restoration, director Josep Caminal says.

``The building has been burned, but flames cannot destroy an institution that has lasted more than 100 years and which was so important for Spain and Europe,'' soprano Monserrat Caballe told national television.

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The blaze broke out shortly after 11 a.m. in the area behind the stage. Mr. Caminal told reporters he thought a spark from a blowtorch had started the fire. It spread quickly above the new steel fire curtain to the building's partially wooden roof. The fire curtain was installed during a recent partial restoration.

By noon, the fire had swept throughout the building, causing much of the roof to collapse, a fire-department spokesman says. Officials say the blaze was difficult to extinguish, because many of the burning embers were trapped between the fallen roof and the orchestra seats. A fire department spokesman says firemen were struggling to keep the blaze from spreading to adjacent century-old buildings, including the historic Boqueria market.

Jordi Pujol, head of the autonomous regional government of Catalonia, says the theater will be rebuilt immediately. The city and regional governments had been planning a 4-billion-peseta ($28-million) restoration that would have shut the theater in 1995 for two years.

The Liceu opened in 1847 with a performance of Donizetti's ``Anna Bolena,'' and its operatic stage was second only in size to that of Milan's La Scala Theater.

The theater - which author Robert Hughes said became ``the cathedral of taste, display, and pretension'' for Barcelona's bourgeoisie - owes its creation to a group of mid-19th century militiamen who started giving musical performances to raise money for guns and uniforms. They became the Philodramatic Society of Barcelona, which founded the theater.

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