Francisco Asenjo Barbieri / Mariano
Ópera Cómica de Madrid’s summer evenings in the Sabatini Gardens were crowned each Sunday in July, by an exquisite double bill – two zarzuelita chicacomedies, progenitors of the form which grew up into género chico but still showing characteristics derived from tonadilla (especially the first of them), and French vaudeville ( Oudrid’s zarzuela is based on the French squib Bonsoir, monsieur Pantalon.) Ópera Cómica de Madrid has produced both shows before, though in differently combined double or triple bills. In this new “civil partnership” the coupling of the Barbieri and Oudrid pieces appears absolutely perfect, complementary and musically magical – even better than with their previous partners! Arrieta’s El conjuro was formerly with Don Simon; and two picaresque sainetes also by Barbieri – Los dos ciegos and El niño – accompanied El hombre es débil.
Knowing the productions, and with the previous night’s El barberillo de Lavapiés as a precedent, those who saw this Sunday chamber programme left highly satisfied. It was a real luxury in the midst of 2007’s heat, to bask in the Madrid night listening to “Te llevaré a Puerto Rico en un cascarón de nuez” (“I will carry you off to Puerto Rico in a nut shell”) [ed. used by Sarasate as the basis for his Habanera] from El hombre es débil, or the delicious barcarola in the Oudrid piece. The merit of achieving this, let’s say once and for all, is with the artistic team of Ópera Cómica de Madrid. They’re the only ones who dare to take the plunge with this type of zarzuela, and the only ones who know how to get them to yield such pleasure. Another loud Bravo: let’s hope for more in this line of stage revival and innovative programming.
The cast for these performances was impeccable. Mariano Pina’s likeable comic sketch and Barbieri’s music were graced with Carmen González’s well-crafted Tecla, Carmelo Cordón’s Pascual and Ángel Walter’s Luciano. In the trio and two dúos (Habanera and vito.) The communicative González sang her seguidillas with taste and technique.
For the hilarious Buenas noches señor don Simón we had the cast already familiar from two productions at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque. What more can be said of the comedic talents of Ángel Walter and Sea Abascal? Matchless! Marta Moreno, Carmen González – alone in making a debut in her role – … and the rest, all acting with mutual understanding and working the text so very well, that the comic soufflé rose effortlessly.
It only remains to praise the Ensamble de Madrid’s sextet for their energetic work under Fernando Poblete’s direction. Still, given the exquisite qualities of both works, it would be nice in the not too distant future to be able to hear them in their original orchestral clothing. That would let us appreciate to the full two works so successful in their own time, and which after so many decades we’ve once more had the pleasure of hearing.
© Enrique Mejías García
Christopher Webber adds: Barbieri’s musical style, fundamentally Italianate but with an increasingly confident use of Spanish dance forms, melodic and harmonic twists, is well known to many aficionados; and his music for the small-scale domestic comedy El hombre es débil (1871) – suave, mellifluous and theatrically gauged to a nicety – is a typical product of his middle years. Longer comments can be found in our review of the Barbieri triple bill.
Such a contrast with Oudrid, who despite having been a leading spirit at the birth of the romantic zarzuela is hardly even a name nowadays. With the exception of the popular orchestral/band piece El sitio de Zaragoza nothing of his music has made it even onto the fringe of the 21st century repertoire, so the chance to see Luis Olona’s neatly “Spanished” little French farce (1852) with its original Oudrid score was of great interest.
What does Oudrid sound like? Simpler musically, but no less direct than Barbieri … a real flair for good tunes memorably yoked to the text … music which makes its point quickly and never gets garrulous …popular theatre music of the best kind, conventional, but without a trace of shoddy workmanship. And then that barcarola – beginning as a off-stage tenor serenade, advancing and retreating as the lover’s boat passes his lady’s balcony, and then transforming into an on-stage trio for the women – reveals a confident and original sense of theatrical imagination. Oudrid speaks with a distinctive accent, notably less Italianate than Barbieri, and on this showing his music demands revaluation. Isn’t it time that one of his large-scale zarzuelas, maybe El molinero de Subiza (1870), was given a major revival?
© Christopher Webber 2007
El hombre es débil. Music: Francisco Asenjo Barbieri. Text: Mariano Pina (adapted by Francisco Matilla). Cast: Tecla - Carmen González; Pascual - Carmelo Cordón; Luciano - Ángel Walter. Buenas noches señor don Simón. Music: Cristóbal Oudrid. Text: Luis Olona. Cast: Juana - Mar Abascal; Doña Inés - Marta Moreno; Isabel - Carmen González; Don Procopio - Ángel Walter; Don Simón - Carmelo Cordón; Teodoro - Elier Muñoz; Gallego 1 - Christian Contreras; Gallego 2 - Rodrigo Contreras; Ensamble Instrumental de Madrid; Mariana Mara (costumes); Pedro P. Melendo (lighting); Fernando Poblete (musical director); Francisco Matilla (director). Production: Ópera Cómica de Madrid