On 21 November we were lucky to be amongst the audience in the matchless auditorium of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, for the first night of their latest new production; one of the major works of our lyric theatre, La bruja.
Maestro Chapí demonstrates his quality as a composer throughout the whole score, made up of twenty-two musical numbers; Miguel Ramos Carrión together with Vital Aza put all his theatrical know-how into their 'fantasy tale' libretto, set in Spain at the end of the XVIIth century during the reign of Carlos II, known as 'The Bewitched'. Together they completed this 'jewel in the crown', first seen on 10 December 1887 in this selfsame auditorium, in those days managed by Felipe Ducazcal. La Bruja indeed proved the economic salvation of his 1887-8 zarzuela season.
The night of the revival saw the theatre inside and out alive with expectation of what might be made of this great and scenically hugely demanding work at the hands of Luis Olmos, a director who had not previously worked in zarzuela. There were present, amongst many other great figures from the theatrical profession, the great and unforgettable Luis Sagi Vela, Josefina Meneses, Luis Varela and Francisco Valladares, the Amengual family ... all eagerly anticipating a great event.
Without describing all the fantastic imagination brewed in this production, from the very first scene we believed ourselves submerged in a fairy tale. We saw an innovative production, which certainly did no injury to the zarzuela, but rather enriched it and created real magic not just for aficionados but for young people too. It does not go against the spirit of the work; neither does it injure, to our judgement, the conception envisaged by its authors and composer.
The production is excellent, though as is often the case when everything seems 'right', it is difficult to select one aspect for special commendation; subjectively, we must mention the effective stage production, the design, and the choral interpretation, in the hands of Luis Olmos, Gabriel Carrascal and Antonio Fauró respectively, all of whom emerged with great credit.
As for the solo singers, they were another major cause for satisfaction, and on the 21st we were treated to an outstanding performance. Tenor Carlos Moreno (Leonardo) exhibits a great voice, although my one caveat would be to ask for more interpretative confidence in that superb Jota which is the pre-eminently famous number within Maestro Chapí's magnificent score. The musical difficulty of the role assigned to the soprano is great, requiring an unusual vocal range; but the experience and purity of Milagros Martín (La bruja, the Witch herself), came through, as ever, triumphantly.
An unexpected delight was the comedy tenor Julio Morales, who played Tomillo with elegance whilst evidently giving the role with a relish which in future performances can doubtless only increase. The other principals were Marta Moreno (Magdalena), fine as ever in the character role of the innkeeper; Silvia Vázquez (her daughter Rosalía), who made a good pairing with Morales; Carmen Belloch (Mother Superior) and Carlos Bru (The Curé). Abel García seemed to us vocally inadequate as The Inquisitor; we believe he has to improve if he is not at some moments to spoil the quality of the production.
The musical direction was entrusted to Manuel Galduf, who knew how to mould at all times the sound that Don Ruperto wanted to communicate through his large orchestra; one that, as is usual at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, gave an outstanding performance. The Chorus, that excellent group of professionals, demonstrated its experience and performed well throughout the performance, but especially in "Las hilanderas", "Los pelotaris", "El brindis" and "El rataplan"; notwithstanding, we found them most memorable in "Las educandas", which was notable for its perfect integration of the vocal parts.
I am not a lover of excessive balletic movement in stage productions, but in the event it seemed to me that on this occasion the dance elements totally succeeded, not diverting attention from the drama, but exactly the opposite, accompanying and strengthening the meaning, stressing the character of each scene. All credit, then, to the work of Fuensanta Morales. Neither should we forget the fine work of Mª Luisa Engel (costumes) and Juan Gómez Cornejo (lighting).
In a nutshell, what was to begin with a great work, for which we are indebted to its creators and in particular to Don Ruperto Chapí, with a good libretto (that has been revised for this production by Luis Olmos), has received an excellent revival - just what our zarzuela needs to give it the power to maintain that position which it should never have had to lose, and that it is well on the way to recovering if it continues to work along these lines. Congratulations on the production, which we are looking forward to seeing once again.
Madrid 27th November