Text Eusebio Blasco / adaptation by Pedro
Me gustan todas - the apotheosis of zarzuela bufa
Within the round of its gorgeous Roman theatre, this most venerable of Spanish summer festivals presents in the Extremadura capital a music-theatre spectacle of singular interest. Under the title Calipso [“Adventures and misadventures of a goddess”], lurks a modern adaptation of El joven Telémaco made by Pedro Víllora – playwright and Professor of Drama, who has renamed the piece not only because of his changes to the libretto, but also to accentuate the feminine side of the story. To be honest, in spite of the alterations to the original the new name is unnecessary, since Víllora’s version does not betray the spirit or letter of the zarzuela original, allowing us to see the work in very similar form to that welcomed by the Madrid public 140 years ago.
El joven Telémaco is a work important to the history of the Spanish lyric theatre in so far as it inaugurated a peculiar genre, the zarzuela bufa. Little is performed or even remembered today of this fifteen-year phenomenon: only the famous Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, in fact a kind of epilogue to the craze; and Arrieta’s zarzuela El conjuro, recently staged with success by Ópera Cómica de Madrid. These works are of very different types compared against to the present work, which shows how the exciting bufa adventure had a greater creative originality than contemporary critical opinion cared to acknowledge.
Certainly El joven Telémaco takes wing from Offenbach, to deny that would be absurd; but it unites Parisian comic elements with distinctively Spanish musico-theatrical features to create a work differing completely from La Belle Hélène. A parody of Homer's Odyssey (following very closely Les Aventures de Télémaque by Fenelon), seasoned with ingenious jokes and piquant topical references, serves as the frame for a sequence of musical numbers of notable elegance imbued with the spirit of the salon music in vogue throughout mid-19th century Europe. To this is added a “hit number” very different in style from the rest, the well-known habanera “Me gustan todas...” - possibly in fact the work of Francisco Arderius, famous promoter of this theatrical experience, the brains behind the birth of zarzuela bufa and a man of unsurpassed theatrical instinct.
The staging takes wing from one basic idea: the work's essentially thespian nature. With one simply ingenious setting of wooden waves in motion throughout devised by Felype Rodriguez de Lima, and imaginative lighting by Juan Gómez Cornejo – both indispensable to make good use of a stage with little depth, enormous width and no proscenium – Ángel Roger is able to create a lavish comedy-revue attractive to the eye but dramatically coherent, giving rein to the madcap spirit of Blasco’s text but holding enough in reserve so everything can make its point. Marta Gómez’s elegant choreography - notably in the opening scene and the suripantas dance – also adds to the general success of the staging, as likewise do the original, inspired and amusing costumes of Helena Kriúkova.
The nymph Calypso (the attractive Soledad Mallol, from the popular comedy duo Las Virtudes) has been left on her island like an authentic bitch on heat after being abandoned by her lover, the hero Ullyses (the effective Carlos Manuel Díaz). But when his young son Telemachus shows up (powerfully played, in all senses, by baritone Marco Moncloa), she grabs with both hands the chance to satisfy at once her hunger of revenge and huge sexual appetite. The equally unbridled nymph Eucharys (the no less charismatic Elena Martín, also of Las Virtudes) does not take her mistress’ desires lying down, and gets the good looking young Greek male to swear eternal love to her instead. Through all this Mentor, councellor-companion of our young hero (the magnificent Francisco Valladares, always discreet and wisely ambiguous), makes sure that this war of the harpies does nothing to damage his beloved pupil. Our heroes flee from the island when their adversary falls asleep – the result of their reading the news from (our current!) press – and we are translated to another island, where dwelleth Venus (slightly over-acted by soprano Susana Casas, none the less brilliant in her graceful seguidillas. Here her son Cupid (the hilarious Tonino) cleverly unties the loving knot.
Rogel’s music is intelligently put over by the committed Montserrat Font Marco, who leads soloists, orchestra and chorus very much from the front. The conductor has also inserted other musical numbers by the Orihuela composer, plucking two beautiful dúos from later zarzuelas bufas (La isla de los portentos from 1868, and Un casamiento republicano from 1869), and expanding the final with music from a third Rogel title, Las tres Marías (1869). Totally compatible in spirit and form with the score of El joven Telémaco, these numbers been added to the staging – with minimal verbal changes – in order to pad out the original to our temporal tastes. What was Arderius thinking, I wonder, from the Mount Olympus of Los Bufos Madrileños, when he heard the 2006 audience humming “Me gustan todas” along Mérida's streets, just as if it were 1866 Madrid!
© Ignacio Jassa Haro