Here in Plaza de Santa Ana at the heart of the Las Letras district, inside the “Miau” coffee shop named after the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós, I introduced myself to the great stage director who is one of our great “young artists”, although a veteran by his date of birth. No coincidence, as he has already studied and staged adaptations of Galdós such as La duda (2006) and El abuelo (2007) – just two examples from his wide experience, which has embraced some 170 productions of plays, zarzuelas, revues, opera… about half of them with musical content. Amongst many prizes he has twice received the National Theatre Award, in 1961 and 1972. Anyone who has not done so might well consider reading his book El teatro que he vivido. Memorias dialogadas de un director de escena.
It was a pleasure to listen, learn, reminisce together... this was a relaxed interview with a man so very young at heart that his insistence he was born in 1930 is surely hard to believe. Ideas and views of contemporary music theatre are “in his blood”. He talks creatively, imaginatively, names rolling off his tongue as if the stagings we recall from forty or fifty years ago were happening now. The names of dozens of admired artists and singers flow from his lips.
Through the glass door of the coffee shop a few metres away is Teatro Español, where last summer he staged and directed Las de Caín.
are in the district for writers and dramatists. Which theatre has been the
scene of your greatest success?
Revue, zarzuela, opera, comedy,
classical theatre .... Which feels closest to your heart?
I enjoy musical theatre, watching it, creating it, directing. I’ve seen more than one hundred and forty musicals, mainly in London and New York, which shows I’m really curious about this type of show and particularly what’s around here and now.
Let’s talk about
An important aspect is how to achieve continuity. I do not like black-outs, but like to move from one scene to the next imaginatively, even perhaps adding some number by the same composer, bringing in new ideas. That’s part of the director’s creative job.
Some works can be updated to more recent times but there is always a limit which should not be passed, because for sure “actors in modern dress without ideas, is like a dress rehearsal without clothes.” I really like to invent and re-create whenever it’s possible.
Right now you’re directing
La verbena de la Paloma in the Sabatini Gardens with an additional
number. Tell us about your idea.
I’ve chosen to add some other género chico numbers to La verbena de la Paloma, well-known but not as popular as the major numbers of Bretón’s score. To avoid breaking the structure and pace of the work, these have been incorporated into a scene where the characters are actually going to the verbena. This way you do not lose the thread of the work, which maintains its usual structure. I always wondered why the characters don’t really go to the verbena. The answer may be to do with the need not to extend the work beyond an hour, as the genre required. Someone who did not know the work well told me that he thought the numbers added were part of it.
Remember those two works entitled
Tiovivo madrileño [‘Madrid
carousel’] and Casi un siglo de zarzuela
[‘Almost a century of zarzuela’]?
On the death of Torroba, Cayetano Luca de Tena wrote a text that to bind together numbers from various works as a tribute to the great musician. Thus was born Casi un siglo de zarzuela. There were songs from Azabache, La Caramba, Baile en capitanía, María Manuela, La chulapona… that was in 1982. Ángeles Chamorro, Antonio Blancas, María Muriz, Josefina Meneses, Antonio Ordoñez, Carmen González, Guadalupe Sánchez, Jesús Castejón and others appeared in it with the Theatre’s chorus, conducted by Maestro Perera.
Given your experience and current
independence, how would you advise the new team at Teatro de La
What future for Spanish lyric
theatre in the medium term?
How do you approach staging a work?
Do you base it on what you’ve seen before?
I remember the first time I saw La parranda,at Teatro Romea in my birthplace of Murcia – nothing at all like the latest version we’ve seen in the Teatro de la Zarzuela. I was eleven, Marcos Redondo was singing, the theatre was garlanded for the occasion and the audience wore folk costume. All such experiences influence you when you are mounting a production.
You’ve worked with hundreds of
actors and singers. Could you give us the names of a few
do you remember about Lola Membrives [1888-1969]?
You premiered La Feria del come
y calla in Paris. Tell me something about that.
Those fifteen years at the National
Youth Theatre. What do you remember from that period?
What about that Ibero-american
Festival in Havana?
We had María La O and Rosa la china from a Cuban company, and El barberillo de Lavapiés and El dúo de La africana directed by me. All this took place in the Teatro García Lorca in Havana. Then we had an Anthology of Bolero, locally cast. One curious aspect I will tell you, was that the fabrics for the costumes had to be brought from Mexico and the zippers and buttons we had to bring with us from Spain.