Interview with...

Ricardo Jiménez

Pedro Gómez Manzanares

(Madrid, 9th February 2013)

Ricardo Jiménez
Ricardo Jiménez

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 Jiménez in La Gran OcasionRicardo, talk about how you won the TV program that changed your life.
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 career?
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.

Ricardo Giménez in La brujaWhen 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 Castejón
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 time?
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.

Ricardo Jiménez and Josefina Meneses in Luisa Fernanda

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!

Jiménez and Meneses in La leyanda del besoWhat do you think of the zarzuela right now?
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 managerial level.
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?
I 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 companies.
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 to Tamayo.

Homenaje a Sorozabal. Ricado Jiménez, Isidoro GavariWe 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 him.
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 teeth.

Ricardo, what would you recommend to revitalize zarzuela?
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 would like.

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 your audiences.

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 2012

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