Teatro de la Zarzuela's 2014-15 season

An editorial by

Ignacio Jassa Haro, Pedro Gómez Manzanares and Christopher Webber

Temporada 2014-15 (Teatro de la Zarzuela)

Although (due to unforeseen circumstances) a week later than originally scheduled, Teatro de la Zarzuela has presented plans for the upcoming theatrical season considerably earlier than used to be the case. As usual since the arrival of Paolo Pinamonti in Calle de Jovellanos, the announcement leaves no one indifferent. While some have labelled it the most ambitious artistic project in the recent history of the institution, others feel it has betrayed the Theatre's spirit. Therefore we wished to present a variety of opinions: over the last few years one or other of our two Editors have commented on the season announcement, but this time we present the ideas of both, adding our regular correspondent Pedro Gómez Manzanares. Bear in mind these opinions are just that: the particular viewpoint of each of these people.

  Ignacio Jassa Haro: The most ambitious season ever programmed
  Pedro Gómez Manzanares: The new "zarzuela season" of Teatro de la Zarzuela
  Christopher Webber: A View from the (London) Bridge

  Appendix: Pierre-René Serna: Puzzled in Paris

The more ambitious season ever programmed

The Pinamonti era announces its third season with striking headlines: in crisis, and with a budget of less than eight and a half million euros, he is set to programme fourteen works of lyric theatre. What could not be done in Teatro de la Zarzuela if there were a little more economic slack? (Not necessarily at public expense, but simply by making a more equitable distribution of public resources between the city's two opera houses.)

These figures, of course, need qualification : only six of those works will be staged in the main auditorium, and two of those will be combined in a strange double bill. Another three will be heard in concert versions, and the remaining five start out as educational initiatives (one a double bill) to develop outside work with two partner institutions : the Carlos III University of Madrid (in the Leganés campus auditorium), and the Juan March Foundation (in the auditorium of the Madrid building.)

Amongst the fully staged productions, after a long absence appears an Offenbach work with an ancient Madrid history: The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein. The work features stage direction by Pier Luigi Pizzi, and will be performed in a new translation put together by our friend Enrique Mejías, who has compared two historic Spanish versions of this zarzuela bufa.

The other main focus of attention is a Gershwin-Alonso double bill, for which Emilio Sagi will have to wield the scissors to make a musical and an operetta - both in two acts - coexist in one show. I believe that either of these would be highly significant revivals if given in full, but that excisions are surely bound to compromise the theatrical essence of both pieces. It also seems inconsistent not to translate the American piece - the only work in the whole season which will not be performed in Spanish.

The third new production marks the return to its origins of Bizet's Carmen, for the first time here in its original opéra-comique form with spoken dialogue. Beyond those curiosities, this will allow a closer look at the second most performed opera in the international repertoire (dixit Operabase), the show will pivot around a reflection on women suggested by the stage director Ana Zamora.

The chief revival is of a production, the more expected for its recent date: Barbieri's Los diamantes de la corona directed by José Carlos Plaza. The other explores the formal and chronological limits of the genre to revive a work, called a zarzuela, in neoclassical style, which was lovingly revived by Teatro Español not too long ago : Boccherini's Clementina in the Mario Gas production.

For all this we have an exceptional roster of conductors: Andrea Marcon for the eighteenth-century work, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos for the Barbieri, Kevin Farrell for the Hispanic-American double bill: Yi-Chen Lin is the Chinese-American conductor for Carmen, and the in-house musical director, Cristóbal Soler, directs the Offenbach. He himself will lead two of the three zarzuelas to be performed in concert : Vives's Maruxa opens the season and Millán's La dogaresa comes near the end. Another important guest – Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez – will also raise his baton, promising us happy listening with Torroba's La marchenera. Three welcome titles, though the first at least (premiered one hundred years ago) should have been fully staged.

The highlight of the educational projects must be Fantochines by Conrado del Campo, at the Juan March Foundation. This same institution will offer a bilingual double bill of Chabrier's Une éducation manquée (with dialogue in Spanish and the vocal parts in French) together with Los dos ciegos by Barbieri, although both with piano accompaniment only. At the auditorium of the Carlos III University in Leganés Isabel, a lyrical tale by José Miguel Moreno, will be premiered, based on poems by Lorca and Muelas; and also Valledor's tonadilla La cantada vida y muerte del capitán Malbrú [i.e. Marlborough].

Rounding out a full season at the main theatre will be talks preceding each staged show, exhibitions relevant to them, and some film screenings in relation to Carmen. There are also two, separate lyric concerts - Christmas Classics, this year given added attractiveness by a children's choir; and the Guerrero Foundation's singing contest.

© Ignacio Jassa Haro, 2014

La new "zarzuela" season of Teatro de la Zarzuela

For many years we have been watching , as season ticket holders, the productions which "our" Teatro de la Zarzuela has offered under the direction of various professionals, sometimes excellent and appropriate choices, sometimes not so successful, but in any event we have respectfully attended everything.

As usual, we have received instructions how to purchase season tickets for our next season, 2014-2015 and we are amazed our zarzuela season tickets will include titles very far from expected. Far from wanting to discuss the importance and the potential quality of the chosen stagings, what really outrages us (a word nowadays very broadly used) is the choice of titles for the Season of "Zarzuela" (I stress the term "season of ZARZUELA".)

Of course we're totally open to see new conceptions in stagings, even those that many consider "offensive", but this … well, it is far from what we expected.

We're talking about the mere, five events which are announced as fully staged - we're not talking about the zarzuela complete-in-concert series, which we think is a reasonable initiative. Is this our zarzuela season? How can a theatre whose mission is understand to be the performance of zarzuela venture to programme shows such as Carmen, Lady, be Good! and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein?

How dare they call this season "Zarzuela"? Could we not see these shows outside a zarzuela programme, in this or another theatre? Can it be that those people who are responsible for these choices do not have musical culture adequate enough to know that there are thousands of zarzuelas out there that could be appropriate for this venue and for a "zarzuela" season? There are many people who are outraged by what they are seeing. We have heard a season ticket holder saying : "It's as if you pay a subscription to watch soccer, and they give you bullfights".

What is going on? What are they trying to do? Are they out for themselves? Dos they want to create 'jobs for the boys'? Do they want to support ZARZUELA??

We are outraged, and we are many!

© Pedro Gómez Manzanares, 2014

A View from the (London) Bridge

As an interested outsider and huge supporter of Teatro de la Zarzuela's work, I find myself in the position of the poor peasant faced with the genie of the lamp: "You have three wishes, but be careful what you wish for."

I would have wished for zarzuela to break down the barriers between the Spanish genre and equivalent works of music theatre from other countries, by presenting zarzuela juxtaposed with French, Germanic, Slav and British stage works chronologically and artistically related to the genre. I would have liked to have seen Auber's Les diamants de la Couronne imaginatively programmed 'against' Barbieri's very different version. Instead I am presented with yet another production of one of Offenbach's campest and musically most flimsy shows. First wish wasted.

I would have wished to see classics of the repertoire mixed with important revivals of lesser known titles. Alonso's great revista? Marvellous! Butchered and thrown on with chunks of a tired, old Gershwin show performed in the American language? Terrible! Maruxa and La dogaresa? Great! Ah… so we will only get to see them in one-off concert performances, the Vives on the first night of the season, which will make it virtually impossible for many lovers of this composer to even get a ticket. Second wish wasted.

I would have wished the Theatre to show how zarzuela goes beyond mere "entertainment", wrestling as it does with still-important social themes, such as the eternal question of the gypsy. So, do we finally get Chapí's masterwork La chavala programmed, with its devastating picture of the clash between urban and rural life? No. We get a pointless revival of the most stale and hackneyed opera in the repertoire, marketed with some sort of vague feminist slant. Yawn. I don't know how the Teatro de la Zarzuela's audience feels about Carmen, but I feel it is a profoundly disappointing, unimaginative, anti-artistic and anti-intellectual decision to stage the work, even with spoken dialogue in Spanish. Third wish wasted.

The genie has disappeared back into the bottle, and my wishes are all gone. We know that the fiscal butter must be spread thin, but there is a headless-chicken stupidity in this programming which betrays both a chronic lack of vision and a lack of belief in zarzuela itself. It makes no sense, intellectually. It has no artistic ambition. It is guaranteed to please nobody.

I should have been more careful what I wished for.

© Christopher Webber, 2014

Puzzled in Paris

I totally agree with Pedro Gómez Manzanares and Christopher Webber. The announcement of the new season of the Teatro de la Zarzuela has overwhelmed me. An absurdity and a nonsense! Half of the works scheduled are not zarzuelas... what, in the cradle of Spanish lyric art, are Carmen, Offenbach, Gershwin and Chabrier doing here? In small doses, why not? But not with such high profile. Not only that , but the works which are zarzuelas are - apart from Luna de miel en el Cairo (good idea for once!) - without any freshness. Even those that are to be performed in concert...

Hopefully this misguided programming is only an isolated parenthesis, and next season will see a full and complete return to zarzuela, with some of the many hundreds of titles that deserve to be rescued from oblivion (as was the case this year with Curro Vargas) given alongside the standard repertoire works. The Teatro de la Zarzuela - funded by the Spanish Ministry of Culture - must provide and defend the specific art form from which it takes its name. A good role model would be, for example, the Opéra-Comique in Paris, which defends courageously - and with proper musicological research - its home repertoire. If not, who will?

París, Pierre-René Serna
(author of the French
Guide de la Zarzuela)

en español
Teatro de la Zarzuela: 2014-15 PDF brochure