Placido Domingo's concert at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza tonight is billed as “the world's greatest tenor at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” a claim few lovers of opera or history would dispute.
But some Mexicans question whether the show should go on at all.
Archaeologists are pressing for criminal charges against the organizers, reviving a debate over how to use treasured ancient sites.
It's a balancing act many countries face as they try to promote and protect their cultural heritage. As artists seek to perform in stunning places from the Great Wall of China to India's Taj Majal and ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian structures, many worry not only about damage but also about cultural propriety.
Domingo, a Spanish tenor whose career began in Mexico, sought to reassure critics Thursday, saying “I know there has been some discomfort … because I was going to perform at this site, but we have taken care of every detail to carry out this event.”
Mexico's government turns down almost all requests to hold concerts at ancient temples, but they are increasingly pressured by state governors to promote ruins already swamped with tourists.
Domingo's concert inside Chichen Itza violates a law that requires the ruins to be preserved to educate Mexicans about ancient cultures, said Cuauhtemoc Velasco of the archaeologists' union.
“These monuments are not there so that rich people can hold events at them” said Velasco, noting the tickets cost between $45 and $900 in a country with a minimum wage of about $4.50 per day.
For present-day Mayas like Amadeo Cool May, who hosts a Mayan-language radio show, the concert “is an event for foreigners who come here on vacation. It is something completely alien to the Mayas, because of the ticket prices and the type of music.”
Jorge Esma, who is organizing the concert for the Yucatan state government, counters that non-ticket holders can watch it for free on local television, and says the Mayan temples will be well protected. The government has required light stage structures, forbidden anything from being anchored into ancient stones, and will have experts on hand to evaluate the impact on the 1,200-year-old temples.
But a researcher at the government archaeology institute filed a criminal complaint, seeking to punish the organizers for “degrading” Chichen Itza by using it as a “simple backdrop.”
The concert is expected to draw 4,000 people, the number set by the government as a maximum after organizers asked for permission to hold a much larger event.
Esma said more than half a dozen concerts at Chichen Itza since Luciano Pavarotti sang here in 1997 prove such events can be held without damaging the temples. The site, voted one of seven modern wonders in a global 2007 poll, is visited by as many as 12,000 people a day.