El barberillo de Lavapiés
How gloriously unpredictable live theatre can be. Teatro de la Zarzuela’s new production of Barbieri’s El barberillo de Lavapiés is something of a triumph, presenting this treasure of operatic theatre in a format both traditional and modern, squaring the circle with intelligence, ingenuity and – above all – boundless trust in the music, text and performers. Alfredo Sanzol is a notable writer as well as director, and his achievement here is to coordinate a truly collaborative staging where dance, dramaturgy and design combine to great theatrical effect.
‘Traditional?’ Yes, in that El barberillo has been colourfully costumed and lit in the Goyaesque period style; in that it relies on a few mobile, black blocks for settings rather than technical tricks; in that it has faith in a (subtly-modified version of) Mariano de Larra’s spoken dialogue to carry the plot; and in that it puts the onus of the comedy onto the singers, actors and dancers. ‘Modern?’ That too, in its boundless physical energy and flowing movement; its exuberant choreography; and the sense that each word, each note, each gesture has been freshly re-imagined.
Enough of generalities. All praise to Sanzol – directing his first, but not I hope his last zarzuela – for trusting to the zarzuela’s verbal as well as bodily comedy; and above all for inspiring his company, from Lamparilla through to each and every dancer and chorus singer, to deliver every moment as though life depended on it. Antonio Ruz’s choreography is some of the most thrilling I have seen in this theatre, athletic and adventurous in recreating the mannerisms of Goya paintings such as ‘El pelele’, adept at conjuring memorable theatrical tableau. He makes sure that everyone – not just the small team of talented dancers – is involved in literally embodying a series of gorgeous stage pictures. Alejandro Andújar’s costumes follow suit, evoking the painter in a harmonious riot of colour and textures, lit in evocative chiaroscuro by Pedro Yagüe, with subtle use of footlights against the dark, urban mise en scène.
Borja Quiza’s Lamparilla is another stride towards stardom for this young baritone. Quiza is a one off: his distinctively mobile face, naturally relaxed delivery and accurate musicianship make for a compelling, charming and chancy Little Barber. There’s even a touch – just a touch! – of Marcos Redondo about him. Whether in his entrance number, the amusing narration of his imprisonment or his precisely energised leadership of the lamp-smashing riot, this is his show, and he grabs it with both hands. Cristina Faus, fresh from her Grandmother in Juanjo Mena’s stirring new La vida breve on Chandos CD, is a vital, unbuttoned Paloma. If her voice occasionally thickens these days she compensates with attractive tonal richness; and her tirana with Quiza rightly receives the – now all too rare – distinction of an encore.
María Miró and Javier Tomé embody the aristocratic Marquesita and her beau beautifully, though their singing is rather workmanlike than distinguished. Abel García leads his Walloon guards with sour-faced relish, and I was equally taken by Ángel Burgos’s grinning Lope, Lamparilla’s sidekick and deputy. He led the barber-shop scene for the men with dangerous glee: the balancing ‘sewing scene’ for the women later on was another highlight, staged with no less verve and physical resource, and equally well sung by Teatro de la Zarzuela’s chorus, on its best form.
José Miguel Pérez-Sierra takes Barbieri’s score at one hell of a lick. Occasionally it feels breathless, but in general his approach franks the exhilarating sweep of Sanzol’s production – and at least in live streaming the orchestra sounded unfailingly precise and alert. Nor was there any problem on stage in keeping pace with his frenetic baton. As for the streaming itself, there was a break in transmission about ten minutes from the end on Facebook live, immediately following the calaseras, which led to further gremlins in the ensuing choral scene. All was recovered in time for the brief finale, and in any case those technical problems have been rectified for further viewings on YouTube.
Never mind the gremlins. I can’t emphasise enough how enjoyably true to the spirit of Barbieri this production is. Watch it while you can! The teeming ebb and flow, the fluid peopling of the stage, the Tamayo-like brilliance of the costuming, choreography, lighting – and Borja’s memorable Lamparilla – all make this an evening to restore our faith in zarzuela, and in the great theatre dedicated to its past, present and future.
© Christopher Webber and zarzuela.net, 2019