‘The Sorozábal Singer’
The first time we spoke was in a Villaviciosa café, where five zarzuela-lovers have been taking Saturday morning breakfast and debating the subject over many years. That particular day I looked behind us and saw someone who looked familiar. So familiar, that I realised I had seen him just the previous night at Teatro Español. It was Javier Galan, breakfasting with a friend. The venue was certainly nothing like the old café in Adiós a la bohemia, nor was anyone reading The Herald newspaper, nor could the tunes of Maestro Sorozábal be heard distantly in the background. It was a bustling, modern cafe that would certainly have shattered the Maestro’s dream.
Now we were meeting in the cafeteria of Madrid’s Palace Hotel, close to Teatro de la Zarzuela, where – just an hour later – he was to perform in the production of Carmen that was going on in Madrid at the time.
What do you think of the new vision of Carmen
you’re singing at Teatro de la Zarzuela?
Since you have not sung one-act
género chico works, and therefore haven’t ‘fallen
into the nets’ of its misguided detractors, what do you think of the
‘other side’ of zarzuela – those in two, three or four
Librettos and plots sometimes require revision to make their mark in our day. Those texts were written for particular places with particular conventions. That context weighs heavily on them. Many pieces were written in a few hours, to meet the production demand for ‘instant consumption’, and that affects their quality. But it is still interesting to revive them and make them available for aficionados and the general public.
La eterna canción, Black el
payaso, Adiós a la bohemia, Las de Caín, Katiuska, Don Manolito,
La del manojo de rosas, La tabernera del puerto. An
expert in Sorozábal. Maybe a singer who’s sung more
Sorozábal than anyone. What do you think of him?
And the work of Mario Gas in Adiós a la bohemia, as with Ignacio Garcia’s in Black el payaso and other productions, was key to these stagings. Ignacio gave his all to me, pushed and pushed me, and I always tried to respond to his suggestions – and the result was so successful that many nights we were almost having to encore the romanzas. It was a fine opportunity for me to get to know this great composer through his scores.
Are there any other Sorozábal revivals would you
You’re from the Valencia region, so tied to the
history of la zarzuela and music in general: how is this genre that concerns us
so much perceived there?
Healthy rivalry between local societies has helped the level of training to rise to the heights, and increasingly there’s the possibility to study string instruments, voice and piano. This in turn creates a base of knowledgeable people, and makes it easier to make singers and musicians at many levels, who may then make the leap to lyric theatre – in particular to zarzuela – as well as domestic and foreign symphony orchestras.
My three children study music, thanks to the Musical Society in our village. One plays the trumpet, another the flute, and the third the tuba, all instruments that allow them to play in a band or in any orchestra. They have received a first-rate musical education from the outset. My eleven year old daughter has already gone on to study at professional grade at the conservatory. The consequence of this ingrained ‘fan base’ is that there are hundreds of instrumentalists and singers who are continually joining the ranks.
What should we do
to restore our lyric theatre?
Most crucial is the business of creating stable, calm conditions for those who want to devote themselves to deepening and strengthening their interpretation, and the other skills that lyric theatre needs. I think Spanish singers are neither better nor worse off than in other countries. The fact is, that it takes time to make a good performer – time spent on the stage – and only through actual experience can great performers emerge. I have always tried to take advantage of the few opportunities I’ve been given, and I have also taken roles with modest companies that have allowed me to ‘try out’ important roles; so I think the solution lies in the creation of stagings, not of the first rank, designed to give a chance to many more people than we can now.
Are any young conductors you’ve seen interested in
you were Minister of Culture (of any government within Spain), what action
would you take immediately?
Encourage musical culture in children. I remember when I was little we had concerts at school, on a weekly basis. My enthusiasm was born there. We should take care over stagings, because sometimes instead of ‘creating an audience’, we ‘lose an audience’. Quality and professionalism are key in this regard. Enedina Lloris adapted several operas to make them more accessible to a younger audience, and we did them with piano, in the large institute halls. A major initiative like this could be very useful.
Encourage the use of audio-visual media, TV, internet and so forth to spread music.
The secondary-level theatres would serve singers, and musicians in general, as proving grounds helping provide the experience that’s essential, to allow them to make the definitive jump into the first-rank theatres. I remember the thought of a European politician in the 1950s who said, “what’s invested in culture, I save on jails and courts.”
Javier has to leave. Shortly
his performance in Carmen at Teatro de la Zarzuela will be starting.
Our young voices have grand visions. Hopefully the minister in charge will have
the initiative to ask, listen and to put their ideas into
© Pedro Gomez Manzanares