The neat, modern shopping centre of Pozuelo… modern architecture, open spaces, smartly designed shops in a modernised environment – youthful design, where no one remembers the past... an environment that suggests, or rather forces us to doubt whether we should be bringing zarzuela to this environment, to make it attractive to younger minds that live, work and play in such places...
A tonic and a coke between us, tables with ladies taking their café con leche, parents watching their children whilst having a drink, young people whispering, winking lights all around that proclaim that Christmas is coming.
Marco, as his name appears on the billboards, [ed. his birth name is Pedro Moncloa Marco] has been my companion on several occasions before this interview, in the many stagings of zarzuela, opera and musicals in which I have seen him triumph. I recall that the first time I saw him was in Tamayo’s company, when he was almost a child. Since then we've seen him countless times in and out of Madrid. I remember, for example, La Dolores at in the Festival Hall at Santander, Calixto Bieito’s El barberillo de Lavapiés… but I’ve seen so many zarzuelas and operas featuring this magnificent baritone, many of which we obviously recalled as we began our interview.
You’ve just finished El puñao de rosas at Teatro de la Zarzuela. Have you previously done this zarzuela?
Yes, I did it in Logroño in the early nineties, with the Rupert Chapí company whose director and impresario was Fernando Carmona and entrepreneur, who also played Tarugo. The soprano was Lupe Sánchez. At that time there was a regular zarzuela season in Logroño.
What did musicals do for your career?
Both zarzuela and musicals are very demanding. As well as singing you have to speak and in musicals you also need to dance. These factors provide an actor with an aesthetic and flexibility that are very useful when it comes to zarzuela. That’s something which you can see in those of us now who have the opportunity to take part in both theatrical forms. There is a really close connection between the way zarzuela and musicals are presented. There again, currently opera takes up eighty per cent of my time and zarzuela takes up the remaining twenty per cent, so it’s a while since I did any musical comedy.
How do you imagine zarzuela in the medium term?
Well I think the number of productions will be reduced, will tend to happen in the major theatres of large cities and basically be subsidised. Zarzuela is reviled in many places, including as an important fact the Madrid Conservatoire itself, the source of singers, which frowns on those who want to focus on our own lyric theatre.
I think it could have a significant impact if stagings were based on music theatre principles, and if texts were carefully tweaked and updated.
What must be done to ensure better quality performances?
Taking care, as in opera, to choose the most appropriate voices for each work. Shades of colour give the touch that often marks out the quality of a show. Having said which, there is no mystery about making things better, the recipe is always the same – work and study, but both focused. We can’t do it on our own, it needs direction. And of course with quality singers and actors, with “professionals of the genre”.
I think it was Beethoven who said that art consisted of 10% inspiration and talent, and 90% work and study.
Can you envisage a company being profitable?
Once with a tenor colleague I drew up a feasibility study to set up a company. And the numbers added up. I think it’s feasible to organise a viable company.
Certainly you must look for sponsors, you have to provide capital, look for people willing to work “at the box office" without fear of risk, and of course with an adequate cash reserve to cover any circumstances.
What can we do to attract younger fans?
Having many more directors such as Calixto Bieito, who love music, who “clean up” zarzuela in a good way, to enable us to forget how these works were played in the past and who can stage them as they imagine. By using singers uncontaminated with historical forms and who seek other ways, respectfully, to realise that dream.
You need to reinvent every day; you have to bring vibrancy, rhythm and energy to the productions and performances, as he does.
What can you tell us about the well-known productions “El barberillo de Lavapiés de Bieito” and the Verbena de la Paloma you did with him?
El barberillo was one of my best efforts, both singing and acting. With Calixto I also did Carmen and La verbena de la Paloma, which was incidentally the first zarzuela he directed. It opened at the Tivoli in Barcelona in 1996, with the Focus production company. The audience never applauded at any of the performances, except at the end. The staging seemed “hard” to those who had expected to see a tradition representation of the work. Calixto told me to read Pío Baroja before the rehearsals to understand and imagine what society was and what the Spanish social situation was at that time. Then we performed it at Edinburgh in 1997, where we got the award for best musical work at the Festival.
[That's where our Editor, my friend Christopher Webber, saw live zarzuela for the first time and was positively impressed. Read what was the very first review on zarzuela.net]
To which zarzuela character do you feel closest?
No doubt to Germán in La del soto del Parral.
Do you think there are too few baritones in zarzuela?
I believe that there are few baritones in zarzuela, few tenors, almost no basses and … many sopranos.
What voice do you have as a reference?
When I sing zarzuela, Tomás Álvarez and [Martín] Grijalba. When I sing opera, Renato Bruson and Piero Cappuccilli.
Which zarzuela composer takes most “care” for the baritone voice?
Mainly Tomás Breton and Ruperto Chapí, to which you can also add Barbieri.
Which zarzuela do you dream of performing which you haven’t done so far?
Oddly I have never done a complete Luisa Fernanda. I have sung the numbers but I have never been in a staging. I have hope to do it someday.
Is it possible that we will see the whole [Marco] family together again, in one production?
It is not easy ...