In a season of deadly drought, a true año pasado sin agua for zarzuela in Madrid, El terrible Pérez comes like water to a dying man in the desert. Last summer’s Cuenca production of this notorious, one-act zarzuela ínfima gained golden opinions at the time, and now we can all see why. If you like zarzuela, you will love this DVD.
Because everything here is Right. Cuenca’s Teatro Auditorio is right for the piece’s intimate, tailor-shop farce and ooh-la-la naughtiness (English-speakers may recognise it as a sort of Carry On Up the Trouser Leg). The excellent band is correctly proportioned, and conducted with fizzing precision by leading Spanish composer-conductor Nacho de Paz. Paco Mir’s energetic production of Arniches and García Álvarez’s clever script is swift and brightly pointed, thoroughly of today yet respectfully authentic in style. The impressive cast can without exception act, sing and even dance, and they invest a glorious gallery of gently satirical, comic ‘types’ with grace and individuality. The pleasure – enhanced by Enrique Mejías García’s sharp and informative programme note – is fully sustained from curtain-up to curtain-call.
Pérez (Eduardo Santamaría in commanding, comedic form) is a sort of urban, Spanish Falstaff, a ‘dirty old man’ projecting himself as terribly irresistible to women and macho bully to their husbands: yet when push comes to shove, he proves both a coward and an amorous flop. The jokes are all on him, not least when he disguises himself as a mannequin to evade vengeful Fidel (the lathered César San Martín), a husband out to defend his honour with a castrating knife. The ‘moral’ – and this being Arniches, there is one – is that women don’t have to give up revealing their legs, behinds and breasts to remain immeasurably superior to their neurotic overlords. In its brief, unpretentious course, El terrible Pérez caresses the buttons of hypocrisy and the eternal, amorous battle of the sexes, just as searchingly as Shakespeare’s Merry Wives. In case anyone is surprised by this linking of London’s Elizabethan theatre with the popular productions of género chico Madrid, let me say that the comparison is entirely intentional. Pérez is an excellent work of music theatre by any standards, and this new production gives us eighty-eight minutes of bliss – enhanced by English subtitles which read naturally and accurately, and even on occasion in rhyme.
The CEDOA/SGAE edition is a triumph, interpolating a handful of musical numbers from other Torregrosa scores with such ease that this listener, for one, failed to guess which numbers were from the original score and which weren’t. They all justify their place, theatrically as well as musically; and the balance between dialogue and music is perfect – more so, for current tastes, than a literal presentation of the original would have been. The 1903 El terrible Pérez is in many ways representative of the short, sexy zarzuelas of its forgotten decade, but it is only the tip of a treasure-filled iceberg. Paz and Mir’s adaptation, in mining a larger haul of those treasures, is absolutely true to zarzuela ínfima’s spirit. It deserves the widest currency.
In a classic, dance-based score where everything makes its mark I’d single out the ‘Mannequin Couplets’ for Teresita (the utterly compulsive Ruth Iniesta) and long-suffering tailor’s assistant Concordio (skilfully played by Francisco J. Sánchez). This is from El refajo amarillo but fits the tailor-shop context like a silk glove. Then there is the gorgeous Pasacalle and ‘Chorus of the Stars’ for the four girls which begins the cabaret denouement almost inevitable in zarzuela ínfima – Torregrosa, surely, at his subtle, sensual best. Last, I cannot but mention the decidedly smutty ‘Umbrella’ Couplets (imported from Los puritanos), silkily put across by Gloria Londoño as American cabaret star La Bella Cocotero, in all their lubricious glory. But every single number hits the spot.
The initiative for this marvellous show, and the crowd-funded DVD follow-up project, came from the Fundación Jacinto e Inocencio Guerrero, whose website is probably the easiest place for fans living outside Spain to obtain a copy. All power to them, and to everyone concerned. Single-handedly El terrible Pérez has turned a year of drought into a year of plenty.
© Christopher Webber, zarzuela.net 2015