El paraíso de los niños

Lorenzo Moncloa and Carlos Crooke
Carlos Crooke and Lorenzo Moncloa

Interview with...
“Young innovators”
Lorenzo Moncloa and Carlos Crooke

Pedro Gómez Manzanares
(Madrid, April 25 2014)

A few days ago, in the company of my four year old granddaughter, I enjoyed an amazing staging of the zarzuela El paraíso de los niños [The Children’s Paradise], with music by Joaquín Valverde Sanjuan to a text by Carlos Arniches and Sinesio Delgado. We watched hundreds of children enjoying the piece, which two young enthusiasts for lyric theatre had adapted to attract those young people who hopefully will soon turn into the audience regularly applauding zarzuela in the near future.

It’s 18:30 and I am in my beloved Café Comercial with Lorenzo Moncloa and Carlos Crooke, so that they can tell me about the adventures behind the scenes, for this show in which nearly a hundred people take part.

What made you want to stage the show in the spectacular way you have?
We are people who love lyric theatre and think there are many forgotten works that would capture the imagination of children and young people, who may become future fans of zarzuela. We are 21st century artists who love this genre as much as it was loved in the nineteenth century and so we have produced our “honeymoon show” working on the scenario in Teatro de la Zarzuela’s hands.

El paraíso de los  niños - Teatro de la Zarzuela

How did you contract with Teatro de la Zarzuela to carry out this project?
We did a presentation to Paolo Pinamonti, director of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and his teaching team, about the project which had already been shown to other well-known, major national and international private and public bodies. Paolo and his team studied and evaluated it, and finally approved it as part of their plans to bring lyric theatre to children.

What was your goal?
We wanted to create a new audience for zarzuela so that the fan base doesn’t disappear with the changing generations. This is something which cannot be left in institutional hands alone, and as private initiatives were missing we felt our personal ideas might lead it to reality.

How did you choose El paraíso de los niños?
We knew a Georgian soprano who was in Spain writing a thesis on children’s zarzuela. She alerted us to the work and we began to research and work on it. It’s important to add that we’re researching other zarzuelas for children, which could be revived for this same purpose.

El paraíso de los  niños - Teatro de la ZarzuelaHow did the creative process go?
First (Lorenzo) assessed the work and provided some ideas, and then we agreed on which (Carlos) would introduce into the text and sung numbers. Conceptually, changes consisted in globally adapting the text to avoid “current problems” in the original text, such as certain political or “macho” cultural concepts a long way from our own world, and totally inappropriate for today’s young audiences. Of course we updated the vocabulary to make it understandable by children. We also smoothed out some difficult verses, to help our young viewers understand. We actually modified the text by about 50 %. Sr. Pinamonti asked us to keep the original idea and story and that was done, even if we’ve changed the way of telling it. Last, we changed the words of the final number to add strength to the end of the work.

As for the staging, he asked us to be faithful to the comic conventions of the time and the original characters, and we did – though lighting the show and using costumes, makeup, set design and movement from the children’s current world. The play was designed for parents and children early in the last century, but had to attract those of the present day. The music followed the original, with orchestration realised by Maestro Ortega. Pinamonti asked for a classic staging and we had to work within strict limits to produce the show you have been enjoying. He followed the development of the production step by step.

Why was the orchestral part the least outstanding part of the production?
That is not our responsibility, we believe that you must ask those responsible for producing the music about that.

Do you think this show can attract children to Zarzuela?
We wanted to create interest, but that is not enough, you need to keep working continuously on it. This will leave a positive impression, helping them to remember that a piece they’d enjoyed was called “a zarzuela”. We have started a process in which parents, educators and cultural and educational administrations should continue to be involved. We put ourselves at the disposal of all of them to help out. You have to give the right “product” to every age.... Maybe you have to work harder to get the “product” right for young people, than for those who have ceased to be children. So for them, we prepared this specific project.

El paraíso de los  niños - Teatro de la Zarzuela

Is this the future of La Zarzuela?
It is possible, but to make it so you have to go for it, and we’ve done that. We might hit or miss in the attempt, but we must try. It is a path we believed in, and on which we had the support of the Teatro de la Zarzuela. El paraíso de los niños is not our only staging in this line, we also have another show called El zoo de la lírica which we’ve done in various places throughout Spain, in which various zarzuela numbers are sung and acted that relate to animals – and this also has great appeal for children.

What do you think Carlos Arniches Carlos and Sinesio Delgado, the authors of the script, would think of the revised text of their work?
They were modern in their time, and they would not want their work to become outdated. Many librettists updated their works according to audience reaction. Depending on the success or failure of successive representations, they modified texts with updates and new ideas. I think they would approve of what we have done.

Lorenzo, what do you think the authors of El paraíso de los niños would say if you’d suggested this staging to them?
They would be envious that they did not have the technical and economic means of the great professionals who enabled us to do this show.

How many people have seen your show?
About 2600 in person, to which we must add the fifty eight schools throughout Spain who saw the web streaming.

But your daring does not stop there – you also have written and produced Las leyendas de Bécquer [The Stories of Bécquer].
Yes – we think there is a debt owed by Spanish theatre to the poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, as has been paid in similar cases by other countries. We wanted to pay that debt. This is a continuation of El paraíso de los niños but for a slightly larger public, those young people (and adults) who are interested in those works of mystery and magic, where life and death merge, in themes that appeal to teens.

Leyendas de Bécquer

How would you define your Leyendas de Bécquer?
A Spanish musical spectacular of the 21st century, that in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries would have been called “zarzuela”.

What do you need, so that your productions can be performed in theatres in other Spanish cities?
Institutional support. We are making “products” based on culture, and compete with other commercial “products” at a disadvantage.

El paraíso de los  niños - Teatro de la ZarzuelaHow rewarding to listen to others’ ideas, especially when they are young actors and artists who have the initiative, courage and boldness to risk all for an idea! Zarzuela needs many people like these two. Good luck with their initiatives, which have all our support. Lorenzo must hurry because he is attending a play, and Carlos must pick up some sheet music from the Teatro Real. Thanks to both for enriching our time together.

© Pedro Gomez Manzanares
April 25, 2014

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