(Madrid, 9th February 2013)
We met the tenor Ricardo
Jiménez for an interview: time to ask questions and lose ourselves in
his memories, sharing his experiences, anecdotes and ideas. On a cold February
Saturday, with dry air freezing the skin, we met at his house. We were
accompanied by other mutual friends, Juanita Ruiz and Andrés Fuentes,
former members of the Chorus of Teatro de la Zarzuela, where on so many nights
our hero was strongly applauded. Every corner of his house speaks of his
romanzas: photos, posters, recordings… the memories of our
protagonist flow between us. His voice floats in the air, the voice of a great
tenor, a good friend and a fine man.
Ricardo Jiménez, whose
life was changed by a game show which allowed him to pursue his singing career,
has around thirty zarzuelas in his repertoire, several operas, almost one
hundred romanzas and dúos, several recorded
albums… but most importantly of all he has a staunch partner, his wife
Fermi and their daughters, forming an exceptional family.
Ricardo, talk about how you won the TV program that changed
It was called La Gran Ocasión
and it was a contest between voices in different styles. Competing for six long
months, Saturday after Saturday, I managed to reach the final and be declared
the absolute winner late in 1972. The show had a huge following – we must
remember that at that time Spain had only one television channel. There was
talk that the final was seen by eighteen million viewers. During those months I
sang arias and romanzas from operas and zarzuelas such as La
Gioconda, La pícara molinera, Marina… The
day of the final I sang Pagliacci.
How did this impact your
It changed my life. I quit my business job to
devote myself to what I really loved. My face and my voice became very popular
with viewers, especially among those who loved the lyric stage – not
least zarzuela. I wanted to advance my career, and although I had been taught
at the [Madrid] Conservatory, I decided to complete my training under
Marimí del Pozo.
The number of performances grew exponentially, and
led the way to my debut at Teatro de la Zarzuela. I had spent several years
with the Albéniz Company led by Juan José Seoane, who which
performed on average fifteen to twenty times per month.
When did you
come to Teatro de la Zarzuela?
At first only in concerts,
then came complete works such as Marina and Rigoletto. I made
my debut at Teatro de la Zarzuela in 1978 where I was as a principal tenor
until 1982. My agent and friend Fidel Armero, husband of the great sculptor
Elena Lucas, helped me get into the theatre’s company. I made my debut in
Doña Francisquita directed by José Osuna and conducted
by Manuel Moreno Buendía, opposite Josefina Meneses, Martin Grijalba,
Rosario Gómez, Jesús Castejón, Amelia Font and Rafael
After this came many works, such as Marina,
Jugar con fuego, Don Gil de Alcalá, the opera El
barbero de Sevilla, La bruja, El barberillo de
Lavapiés, La meiga, Fuenteovejuna... but I
especially loved singing in La generala. Of these I treasure a special
memory of Jugar don fuego, which I sang in 1980 under Moreno
Buendía, and directed by Luis Balaguer. I remember in one of the
performances of this work, a tenor dropped his pants on stage and Josefina
Meneses, with a quick movement, pulled them up for him.
Who do you remember best from that
It's a long list and I’m probably forgetting
many, but I remember Josefina Meneses, Maricarmen González, Ana
María Lahoz, Maravillas Losada, Pedro Farrés, Martin Grijalba,
Catalina Moncloa, Mario Ferrer, the great pianist Aída
Monasterio… From the magnificent crop of voices which Spain has always
had, if I had to highlight those I most admired, I would put Alfredo Kraus
first, with Montserrat Caballé and Jaime Aragall. Kraus once advised me
to choose a repertoire and not waver from it. I also remember he also said that
I could become his successor. At a musical level, I have fond memories of
maestros Moreno Buendía and José Antonio Torres.
What can you recall about the
premiere of Fuenteovejuna?
We premiered the work
in 1981; the music was written by Moreno Buendía and the libretto by
Martín Descalzo, based on the play of the same name by Lope de Vega.
Buendía himself conducted and Joaquín Deus staged the production.
My fellow lead was Josefina Meneses, with Farrés and other great
singers, accompanied by a large chorus under the direction of José
Perera at that time (Antonio Fauró today), the titular Chorus of Teatro
de La Zarzuela.
At one point in the zarzuela where I was pointing a
crossbow at the Commander, played by Farrés, my pantaloons ripped at the
back and I had to leave the stage “front on” to be quickly sewn up
and returned to the stage!
What do you think of the zarzuela right
I do not see the way forward clearly. I think if we
continue on the current line it may even disappear from our theatres. I think
there is a lack of affection and respect for zarzuela at a political and
Now performers do little and get paid a lot. I mean
compared with what went on in my performing days, when you earned 5,000 pesetas
(30 euros) or 10,000 pesetas (60 euros) a week depending on whether your role
was secondary or primary, and you did two shows a day for six days a week
– that is, twelve weekly performances.
At Teatro de la Zarzuela shows
have been damaged by some stage directors adding or removing parts of the works
and choosing unsuitable singers.
What were the positive and negative
aspects of Tamayo’s Antología?
travelled with various companies to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and so
forth, and Tamayo’s Antología allowed many of us singers to travel
and bring zarzuela to many people in a host of countries such as Cuba, Panama,
Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, the United States… I think his idea of
putting on a spectacular of well-known numbers from various
zarzuelas managed to win new fans and maybe gave some who’d moved away
from the genre a second bite at it. I’d also highlight that it showcased
many romances and the voices of many singers, giving employment to large
Not so positive was the fact that it deprived fans of the texts,
and hearing and seeing stagings of complete works. I also remember that singers
could not always decide the numbers they were going to sing – that was up
We know that you knew Pablo Sorozábal. What do you
remember about him?
Besides his being a great composer and
musical director, I have great memories of him. By the way, I always longed to
sing and perform his La isla de los perlas, but I had to settle for
singing one of the tenor romanzas in a homage-concert we performed for
I asked permission to record La tabernera del puerto but he
did not like the idea, because he said that after Kraus’s recording
nobody would have a chance. But once I sang the role in his presence and he
could not stop applauding.
I remember we did a tribute to him at a Basque
restaurant in Madrid, and at one point he began to sing “Despierta,
negro” from La Tabernera del puerto and dropped his false
Ricardo, what would you recommend to
In our Teatro de la Zarzuela stagings
are of fine quality and there is a chorus and orchestra of great merit; but you
have to put more zarzuela on, here and in other theatres, and on radio and
television, and in all possible places. In years gone by at this self-same
theatre they’d mount, besides the regular season with more works than
now, a summer season of género chico.
As I said before, the choice of good singers is a decisive factor.
They can make or break a work. I think it would also be important to reduce the
cost of tickets so that young people have more options to attend – but
also the elderly, whose low pensions do not allow them to go as much as they
To young singers I would say: study all about music theory,
singing, declamation that you can, seek out good singing teachers besides those
in the Conservatory and be patient. But above all I would say, make sure that
your performances are believable, so that they hold and transmit feeling to
Here we finish the interview
– but I can’t end without asking the authors and editors of the
book 150 años (1856 – 2006) Teatro de La Zarzuela a
question: “by what mistake have you forgotten so important a figure as
Ricardo Jiménez?” Through lack of knowledge? Lack of focused
research? Lack of interest?...
© Pedro Gómez Manzanares