8.00pm on a warm August evening in Madrid, at El Centro Cultural de la Villa, cradle for many fine productions of the Compañía Lírica Española. The show has started, the audience have left the foyer and sit in their seats. I talk with Rosana Amengual, Assistant Director of the company. Our conversation is counterpointed by the voices of the performers playing, right next to us, Maestro Sorozábal's masterwork, Katiuska. Could there be a better setting for the interview?
Rosana was born into the world of zarzuela, her father Antonio Amengual - director of the company - can boast almost fifty years fruitful work in our lyric theatre. Rosana always loved to sing, to dance, to act ... we recall her performance in the musical Annie, under the direction of Alonso Millán. She later sang in the chorus of the company and began studying economics. She knows theatre life is very hard and does not see her future clearly mapped out, although she would ever wish to abandon musical theatre.
What does zarzuela mean to you?
It is my passion and my life.
Zarzuela is a combination of several disciplines: orchestra, actors, singers, chorus, design, directors ... which is most important to you?
Each and every one of them is indispensable, a good company can't ignore any of those aspects.
How many different zarzuelas have directed, alone or with your father?
Alone, none; collaboratively, many with my father. He has mounted some eighty works.
Which is the criterion for including particular pieces in the repertoire?
My father chooses them with his heart, the ones he loves. Last year he fell in love with Black el payaso and put it on, although many suspected it would not be a financial success.
Do you have a favourite story about the world of zarzuela?
Many years ago, there was a homenaje (homage) to Maestro Torroba in the city of Huelva. The Maestro was travelling there by train; during the trip there was a small incident and Don Federico told those responsible: "Take a little care, so that I do not arrive at my homenaje (memorial)".
You knew some composers? What contact did you have with them?
I knew several, the aforementioned Don Federico Moreno Torroba, Maestro Romo and Don Pablo Sorozábal, who conducted two of his works with our company before he left us forever. He directed us in Katiuska, in which he made some changes that addressed censorship problems under the old political regime. He also directed us in La tabernera del puerto, in which my aunt Ana María Amengual played. Don Pablo paid tribute to her by saying that even his own wife (Enriqueta Serrano) could not have done it better.
Which is the total number of people in the company? How many performances are given per year?
There are ninety five of us, and the average number of performances per year is one hundred and thirty.
Which is the greatest practical problem at present for our zarzuela?
Production costs and the lack of sufficient help from the government. The zarzuela is something very much our own, and has to have support. Currently we have a little help from the Ministry, as well as from town councils in the case of performances outside Madrid. The normal arrangement is to share box office income between the individual theatres and the company.
To give you an example, some years ago a chorus salary was equal to the income from one seat, now it is the equivalent of three. To "raise the curtain" in Madrid costs one million two hundred thousand pesetas per performance; and outside Madrid, including travel, hotels, subsistence etc. it costs about two million pesetas.
Why do you have so much success in El Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid?
Madrid has huge interest in zarzuela and furthermore our stagings are well receieved by the public. Also one must emphasize that our prices are very competitive compared to other companies.
Why you do not mount unfamiliar zarzuelas?
Lately we have mounted Black el payaso and Xuanón, but as you can understand it is very delicate and risky for a private entrepreneur to assay many adventures of this type.
How you see, short term, the future of the zarzuela?
Just now is a good time. The last few years have seen a positive evolution.
You have tried to reach agreements with travel agencies, hotels etc. to bring more people to the performances?
Recently we have reached marketing agreements with certain hotels, with positive results; we acknowledge the help of visitors from other countries, mainly from the EEU and other Spanish-speaking countries.
There are performers from other countries in the company?
Most certainly, in addition to Russian, Ukrainian and other Eastern European players in the orchestra, we have performers from Ecuador, Uruguay singing in the chorus; we have actors from Cuba, and our principal bass is from Venezuela (our great friend Carlos London).
Tell me about the current season.
In July we played in Torremolinos to 2,500 persons, and here in the Cultural Center the attendance level is good. Thereafter we go to Benidorm, Torremolinos again, Pozuelo, Gijón, all this before October. After that we have other projects, amongst others a trip to Portugal; and in December we end the season, in Vitoria.
How should productions be conceived?
Respecting the original idea, there can be innovations, new stagings, but always preserving what the author had in mind. You cannot stage Luisa Fernanda in jeans.
Anything else to add?
We could talk for many hours, but before finishing, I'd just like to thank Christopher Webber for the efforts he is making in his London website on behalf of our zarzuela.
The interval of Katiuska is nearly upon us, and with that the audience will invade this restful and quiet corner, in which I have been enjoying my conversation with Rosana.
© Pedro Gómez