With a new season about to begin at Teatro de la Zarzuela – and a new director hot on its heels – it’s little wonder that there’s a sense of change in the air. 2011-12 will be a transitional programme, planned by the old and (largely) executed by the new team. Equally little wonder that a retrospective of the last twelve months must start with the observation that there was an air of ennui about the 2010-11season, if the feelings of many of our reviewers are anything to go by.
Still, with three new zarzuela productions (two more than 2011-12, or one if you insist on pulling El gato montés into the fold) and an operatic premiere there should have been plenty to talk about. As it was, the first of the new shows La del soto del Parral (Oct/Nov 2010) hardly raised a ripple of controversy either for or against Amelia Ochandiano’s traditional production, which was enjoyed with reservations by Richard Traubner. Richard didn’t much care for some surrealist choreographic touches, or the thunderstorm during Germán’s famous romanza, but found much to praise in Pedro Moreno’s costumes and Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda’s sloping astroturf set, as well as much of the singing. Mr Traubner's final word? “Those who dislike the excesses at the Zarzuela of directors like Calixto Bieito would no doubt find this production very soothing”.
The repeat revival of Jesús Castejón’s laid-back, picaresque production of El niño judío (Dec 2010 / Jan 2011) was much enjoyed by Enrique Mejías García, who praised Beatriz Lanza for stepping nimbly into Carmen González’s famous Spanish shoes as Concha, and the duo of the director and his brother Rafa Castejon for playing most of the other major roles between them – and brilliantly too. Veteran Miguel Sola’s blind ballad-singer came in for praise too. His only regret was that Rachel’s beautiful ballad was once again substituted by the Danza del fuego from Benamor, a work clearly long overdue a production of its own.
The season’s highlight was the double bill of Gaztambide’s El estreno de una artista and Barbieri’s Gloria y peluca (Feb/Mar 2011), the latest in that revelatory series of 19th century revivals which have served this theatre so well over the last decade or so. The present writer fell in love with both (highly contrasted) scores, and with most aspects of the imaginative production – despite Ignacio García’s gaff in trying to link the shows by setting them both in Italy, and fusing the two lead baritones into one person. Fortunately the singers who shared that part (Marco Moncloa and Fernando Latorre) redeemed the mistake by their excellence, whilst Sonia de Munck and the engaging young soprano Dolores Lahuerta provided equally compulsive viewing and listening. The Theatre’s Chorus, still under the tireless Antonio Fauró, once again proved a tower of strength in what I summed up as “a major achievement”.
Sad to say the final new show let the side down. Luisa Fernanda (Apr/May 2011) was slammed by Miccone, who had no time for Luis Olmos’s “impertinence” in mounting yet another new production of the over-familiar work, or for his lack of competence in cutting the text and staging it. Our reviewer found it a “mediocre” Luisa, “fit only for ordinary, television-bound people”. Some “ridiculous” casting, rescued by Yolanda Auyanet’s “ideal” Carolina, and – later – by Amparo Navarro’s “ardent, human” Luisa, compounded the misery. Despite Cristóbal Soler’s effective conducting, musical cuts and an adherence to the composer’s mistaken revisions to the score only made for a more depressing spectacle. We must hope this ghastly farrago will not be seen again.
Zarzuela.net didn’t cover the season’s new work, Yo, Dalí by the veteran Xavier Benguerel, the veteran Catalan serialist. Looking at Madrid reviews, it seems to have been a bit of a damp squib. Excessive length, formal inelegance and lack of dramatic profile weren’t helped (it seems) by a cramped budget; and there was a feeling expressed that the opera would have been better served by the comparatively limitless coffers down the road at Teatro Real. Quite why a bad opera might be the less bad for having money thrown at it is an open question, and in any case Teatro de la Zarzuela should never close its doors to new lyric theatre. That, after all, is what it was built for. The young baritone Joan Martín Royo, who impressed us in his CD of Catalan opera, made a positive impression once again, both as actor and singer, though he and the rest of the cast could do little to salvage what might politely be called a succès d'estime.
So … a short season (all zarzuela done and dusted by mid-May) and not the most memorable one, despite the Gaztambide / Barbieri double bill and some excellent musical contributions throughout. We hope that the wave of optimism for the new management will disperse the lazy languor which settled over the theatre towards the end of Luis Olmos’s last full season in charge of a ship which, although by no means going down, has seemed at times over the last couple of years increasingly rudderless.
© Christopher Webber 2011
19 September 2011