24 horas mintiendo
On the right road
After the absurd storm raised by the political blunders and outside interests, it seems that calm is re-established at Teatro de la Zarzuela, and how better to celebrate than the sizzling score of a revista (revue or musical comedy) by maestro Francisco Alonso? This continues along the road taken by Paolo Pinamonti in revivals of the genre, which began a few seasons ago with the staging of Luna de miel en El Cairo – also by Alonso – a work premiered in 1943. This was shortly before 24 horas mintiendo (‘Lying for Twenty-four Hours’), which appeared in front of the footlights during 1947, first in Logroño (June) and then in Madrid (September). So this is one of the last works of the Granada composer, who was to die only a few months later in May 1948, still young; and as we can hear in this score, with inspiration still fresh and undimmed.
After the half-success of Luna de miel, this time the revival has been put in the hands of Jesús Castejón, familiar with the genre since his cradle and knowing all its twists and turns. With excellent judgment – contrary to what Emilio Sagi did with Luna de miel – he has decided to base his work on the original libretto by Francisco Ramos de Castro and Joaquín Gasa, with suitable adaptations and updates by Alfredo Sanzol, while respecting character and relationships, plot and situation, and even the original dialogue. The only substantial change is to the character played by Enrique Viana, tailored to include his usual gags and jokes, pleasant but perhaps over-familiar, who was female in the original. Here he’s a butler, there a kind of baby’s nursemaid.
Altogether Sanzol’s work is dignified enough and sometimes brilliant, despite somewhat forced aspects that just do not work – such as the pair of corrupt politicians, moulded by clichés and platitudes. Then some situations and dialogue lacks flavour, either due to the inexperience of the younger performers (as with the character played by Estíbaliz Martyn, whose alleged dyslexia goes completely unnoticed), or because they carry over details from the original libretto without a necessary context. Among others, Castro’s and Gasa’s bombastic string of surnames now has no meaning; and the name of Bombardino (‘Euphonium’), although comically intended in the original because the character was Italian and a musician, is simply absurd in its new setting … all of which ends up giving hiccups to the pleasant rhythm of the production.
Revista scripts of course do not usually boast great literary weight, basing their effect on the grace and humour of the principal performers. So much so, that in the libretto of 24 horas mintiendo there’s a curious example of this, during the Act 2 ‘jealousy scene’ between the married protagonists, which requires a quick and comical change of mood. The authors’ note reads: ‘An abrupt transition entrusted to the talent and the indisputable wit of Carlos Garriga’, the actor who played Casto in the premiere, and whose characteristic quirks were very much in the writers’ minds. From all this, it follows that if the performers’ skill in the pacing, nuances, tone and inflections of the genre is not sufficient, shipwreck can be total and absolute. Luckily, in addition to Castejón himself, we have Gurutze Beitia, a sympathetic singer-actress with well-developed stagecraft; the versatile Ángel Ruiz, who is a paragon of virtues; and – a real find – Cecilia Solaguren, who, along with Ruiz, embroiders their relationship with Argentine rudery and double-entendres. All of them display good form, too, when it comes to singing and dancing. As usually happens today, there is a considerable gulf between veteran and younger artists, who make little impact on stage (with the exception of Luis Maesso’s Fernandito), coming as they do from musical theatre, with voices that are poorly projected and not audible enough.
Carlos Aragón’s musical direction gives the piece speed and decibels, but lacks anything in the way of grace and elegance to overcome a certain feeling of flatness in numbers as well-crafted as the chotis, the ranchera or the comic trio. These are compounded by a somewhat arthritic samba – and the unforgivable destruction of the pasodoble, amongst the most elegant of Alonso’s ‘calling cards’, but here interpreted in a rough and grotesque way. I must also highlight negatively cuts in the work’s orchestration (no saxophones or piano), incomprehensible for a major national theatre, which has a mission to ensure respect for creators and their culture.
Yet once all the pros and cons are balanced, the achievement of this new revue revival is positive, one which should set the path for further initiatives – especially now that the future appears clear and free of dark conspiracies.
© Antonio Díaz-Casanova and zarzuela.net, 2018