La eterna canción
The striking thing about the arts scene in Madrid is its sensitivity to change in the political wind. The leftward swing in recent national and local elections has had consequences, not only for the game of administrative musical chairs, but also for programming in the capital's major theatres. Rumour has it that the incoming Alcalde is a Sorozábal fan. Whether or not, this has been a marvellous summer for fans of Madrid's still-controversial answer to Kurt Weill, with a raft of his most popular works from several companies, and an unexpected revival of the Teatro de la Zarzuela's popular La del manojo de rosas on the way.
The most important new show has undoubtedly been the major, lavish production of La eterna canción (1945) for a full season at the Teatro Español, Spain's nearest equivalent to a National Theatre. The libretto, by Sorozábal's regular post-Civil War collaborator Luis Fernández de Sevilla, seems harmless or even trivial enough. On the face of it there's nothing in this lively Madrileño sainete about a song composer, his female relatives and their romantic entanglements, to cause Franco's censors to lose a moment's sleep. Difficult his position may have been, but what Sorozábal managed with the material is quite remarkable. In a style straddling género chico and Broadway jazz, he somehow conjures up a picture of a subtly downtrodden capital in the austerity years, where money is the only thing that talks, where the entertainment business is in dire straits, and where sensitive feeling is all too likely to be crushed by brute force of circumstance.
If this suggests a kind of Madrid Street Scene, the results are anything but dour. Sorozábal is, as ever, at his most lively when living most dangerously. Listened to cold on CD, the music for La eterna canción seems bitty and attenuated. In the theatre every romantic note, every witty point of scoring, every bitter-sweet harmonic twist makes it mark - not least here the winning parody of fashionable Cuban danzon in the nightclub act, and an outrageous flamenco-style riff for the Inspector and his cohorts in a surprisingly sinister, farcical Police Station scene. At root, though, La eterna canción is a warm-hearted, nostalgic tribute to the capital itself, its communal life, even its very skyline. Little wonder that the musical climax is not a vocal number, but the musically daring evocation of Madrid Dawn just before the brief happy-end finale.
The Teatro Español production could scarcely be bettered. The large company is luxuriously cast, led by Enrique Baquerizo's towering, urbane composer Don Aníbal. The romantic lovers are movingly sung and as well acted by Amanda Serna and Javier Galán. The host of comedy characters, led by Millán Salcedo's subversive, impeccably timed Montilla and Pep Saís's no less accomplished Don Tomás, are wonderfully observed. The musical side is in the safe albeit over-steady hands of Manuel Gas (son of the great singer who created Don Aníbal in the original Barcelona show) but the main emphasis in the Español's comparatively small auditorium is on theatrical values; and it is here that this staging is quite outstanding. Ignacio García's production is facilitated by Cecilia H. Molano's atmospheric and fluid designs no less than by some notably powerful lighting from Juan Gómez-Cornejo - as fine as I've ever seen in a Spanish stage show. The whole thing is clever, amusing and quite beautifully paced.
© Christopher Webber 2004