|| Gigantes y
and La viejecita
Teatro de la Zarzuela,
to 29th November 1998
A Caballero double bill? Very much central repertoire for the
spiritual home of the zarzuela, you might think. Yes, indeed. But the director
of this new production, mounted to commemorate the Centenary of Gigantes y
Cabezudos on 29th November, takes the bold step of inserting La
viejecita after just one scene of the better-known piece.
director José Luis García Sánchez doesn't cross cut
further between the two. Rather he attempts to bind the wound with an
apologetic narrator, dressed as a Caballero lookalike, who gives us a gently
serious lecture on the early history of Spanish ciniematography. After the
first scene of Gigantes, we are shown powerful archival footage of
soldiers departing for the American War in 1897, and told that early film
audiences much preferred to watch romantic dramas about the War of
Independence. Cue the Napoleonic farce of La viejecita. After the happy
conclusion of which, back to the return of the defeated soldiers from Cuba and
the conclusion of Gigantes.
Well, why not? Such distancing
doesn't harm the simple strength of Pilar's story, and the impact of the Chorus
of Repatriated Soldiers is if anything deepened by following on from the
military high jinks of La viejecita. We're also forcibly reminded that
there is only a year between the realistic drama of Gigantes, and the
tongue-in-cheek mannerism of the slighter piece. All of which leaves us with a
wholesome sense of the composer's emotional, musical and theatrical range.
Nor does the cinematic frame do much to disguise the sterling, essentially
traditional theatrical virtues of the production, which is notably well
designed, well sung and well acted. Moods and settings, Zaragoza marketplace,
Grand Empire Salon or whatever, are atmospherically defined, the
stagecraft is generally unobtrusively and uniformly effective.
principals are good, some are outstanding. Though María
Mandizábal's Pilar is not dramatically involving enough, she sings
the incomparable Romanza very securely. Doyen Rafael
Castejón occasionally looks as if 48 years in the business are about
enough, sleepwalking his way through the Marqués in La Viejicita
- though his Timoteo is better finessed.
Indeed, most of the
Castejón family is in evidence on stage or off, with mater familias
Pepa Rosado battering her way vigorously through Antonia in
Gigantes. Younger son Rafa does double duty as a nicely
understated Pascual in Gigantes and a lithe, louche Fernando in La
viejecita, where elder son Jesús takes the rewarding central
role of Carlos.
This is the "Charley's Aunt" part - La
viejecita ('The Old Lady') surely took wing from Brandon Thomas's hugely
popular farce of 1892 - and Jesús Castejón plays her/him
with just the right mix of subtle elegance and cheap vulgarity. The
Minuet, neatly pointed up by choreographer Nuria Castejón
(yes, another one!) is a delectable mix of deadpan musical mock-classicism and
farcical gags for 'Doña Teresa' and her male admirers. The role was
originally played by a soprano (and is sung by one in the available recordings)
but the substitution of a tenor does no musical violence. The theatrical gains
are huge, and are in very sure hands here.
The orchestral playing
under Miguel Roa is outstanding, musical preparation impressively secure
throughout. The Chorus must be singled out for special praise - the
marketwomen of Gigantes, the soldiers (Napoleonic gallants or
raggle-taggle repatriados), convince as individual characters as well as
impressing as a vocal unit.
This is a stirring evening, well worthy of
the occasion. Gigantes y Cabezudos is one of the greatest works in the
repertoire, and the genteel farce of La viejecita proves an admirably
funny foil to the Centenary work's potent mixture of popular dance and poignant
© Christopher Webber 1998