Ironing it out!
It's several days since I attended the Teatro de la Zarzuela but the impact upon me of the ambiguous resolution of La chulapona remains fresh in my mind. The near eighty years since the work's premiere, and the vivid performance we witnessed in this umpteenth revival of Gerardo Malla's famous 1988 production, were the principal causes of that deep impression.
La chulapona would be a stale and meaningless history of a Madrid which never existed, if it were not for an unexpected epilogue of an extraordinarily revulsive character. But is not this a merit in the work and its authors? Why do I conclude by putting the longevity and the stage vitality of this spectacular piece down to that fact? I will try to explain.
Although it is certain that at the time of the premiere the work caused an impact, I deduce that must have been of a very different nature from the one it has today. Fair enough, in truth I don't dare to judge its public reception; it may be that there were some members of the audience who experienced a shock like that which this lyric comedy produces in our time. But the writers' intention - about which I feel much more comfortable to pronounce - was of course very different from that which the modern reading seems to indicate.
And I am absolutely convinced that Romero and Fernández Shaw looked to provoke the audience's emotions through the exemplary attitude of Manuela, the work's heroine. This woman renounces life with the man whom she loves sincerely, to take up with an older man who courts her and whom she simply likes and all with the purpose of leaving her true love free to acknowledge the paternity of the son he is going to have by Rosario, her rival in love. Manuela is a faithful lover who knows she must lose her José Maria when social law for biological reasons? dictates his bond with another woman to be stronger than the sincere love which binds him to her. And she not only resigns mutual love with a man, who although foolish is not intrinsically bad, but in addition decides to give her life up to domestic slavery with a man who loves her but whom she does not love - and this, yes, is wrong. She sets out to live a double life with the depressing prospect of an eternal, secret love for another man who is not hers.
Gerardo Malla's production is extremely brilliant. The performances are at one with the important dramatic values contained in the work. Such a fine interpretation logically results in an effective traversal by the audience of the ups and downs of the story that is told. As far as the staging goes, if the outer acts shine with the minimum possible scenery heightened by powerful lighting portraying the joy of Madrid days spent under the sun, the nocturnal second act employs a greater decorative wealth, not less susceptible to atmospheric lighting; in any case Mario Bernedo makes stage pictures of great and flexible beauty.
The scenic movement is most elegant. Costumes, dancers, actors and singers, gracefully attired, step confidently onto the stage to compose a harmonious whole. Special individual contributions come from the undoubted brilliance of most members of the cast (with Milagros Martín and Carmen González topping the bill) balancing others less fortunate it's inevitable we have to mention due to his role's importance the poor stage presence of Ángel Rodríguez Rivero. Of the rest Manolo Codeso, that living history of our theatre, deserves a special mention for his inimitable incarnation of Don Epifanio. The chorus sang their delicious chotis very well, and discharged the remainder well enough. The orchestra found itself playing one of those scores for which it does not feel great esteem, although the professionalism of its players guaranteed an accurate reading. By the way, the work has been revised and republished by ICCMU, which as always is excellent news; Miguel Roa directed commandingly, following this new edition of the score.
If the last eighty years have not dimmed the work's dramatic efficacy, no less positive is the continued impact of Federico Moreno Torroba's music: a score which in its own time could be heard as an exercise in nostalgia without obeisance to the music of the day, is now heard as the masterly stage work of a composer who put his extraordinary sense of theatre at the service of this brilliant theatrical drama.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro, 2004