XIV Ciclo "Los Siglos de Oro"
I admit that this production of Clementina left me in two minds. On one side it must be recognised as a definitive modern approach to this unique flower of Spanish music theatre, on the other I’m forced to confess my lack of enthusiasm for a work sited historically as a textbook example of the zarzuela genre, which is I believe a faulty assessment.
At the risk of being crucified I must point out my discomfort at calling Clementina a zarzuela at all. Its genesis shows that this is an atypical work for the genre. Conceived under noble patronage from the erudite Doña Faustina Téllez-Girón, to be performed privately in her own theatre, the commission required the lyricist (the all-purpose playwright Ramón de la Cruz) to regulate his genius with strict aesthetic rules – the “unities” that governed classical theatre – and with the number of characters dictated by the roster of family and friends who were to participate in the staging.
Then we must add be added to the involvement of Luigi Boccherini, the Lucca musician linked to Madrid for many years but not habitually used to writing operas, who contributes an inspired and well-made score (in a theatrical sense) for someone we might suppose more concerned with instrumental music. His work is full of freshness and dynamism, lacking however any Hispanic imprint: not only of local colour, but also in how its build drama through music. Altogether it is perfectly formed Italian opera buffa.
Motivated by the recent Boccherini Edition sponsored by the Italian government, Miguel Ángel Marín has prepared a new edition (in press) followed in the present revival. The best practitioners on stage and in the pit have also been sought out, involving experienced theatre director Mario Gas (supported by a first rate backstage team) and with the prestigious Orquesta Barroca de Venecia under Andrea Marcon in the pit. The Italian orchestra director paid more attention to shape and balance, with well-marked tempi as the dramatic situations required and carefully ensuring balance with the voices. Although instrumental colour and virtuosity took a back seat, the results were always convincing.
Since the spoken text has been subjected to generous cuts, and as the score is relatively bulky (each act has nine numbers), the end result is a pseudo-opera. Gas’s less than careful direction of the performers magnifies this perception. In fact, this skeletal narrative of an impossible love story is told more through his artistic direction of the physical staging. His designers have created a dual-stage space in which they present the narrative, that with the help of expressive lighting and the clever use of delightful costumes and refined elements of staging, gives the work an adequate variety and aesthetic harmony.
The generally young and somewhat theatrically inexperienced cast featured several non-Spanish singers, a thing worth stating because of its rarity on the zarzuela stage. Anna Chierichetti’s problem was not fluency with the lingua spagnuola, which came across perfectly well, but her real lack of theatrical nous as Doña Clementina, an introverted character who, by contrast, has to be characterised vocally. The performer’s limited acting resources were in evidence measured alongside that stage earthquake named María Rey-Joly, as her temperamental sister Doña Narcisa. This Madrid Lady was in my opinion one of the night’s winners, and it was no surprising that another prize winner would be that sweetie Don Urbano, who has to his benefit the most inspired moments of the score. Graceful tenor Juan Sancho served the part with elegance, using a falsetto of great expressiveness.
The two mezzos secondary to the plot, Cristina Faus’s nanny and Amaya Domínguez as the maid, the former confident enough to define a difficult character combining a hatchet-faced aspect with a sweet inner personality, whilst the latter was showcased in the score’s most sparkling moments, though somewhat more limited in acting resource. João Fernández failed, for its part, to bring the more conventional role of the music teacher to life, though that cannot be attributed to lack of vocal competence or acting ability from this Portuguese lyric bass. Coming to the spoken roles Vicente Díez as the Marquis de la Ballesta and Jordi Boixaderas as Don Clemente showed discretion.
The last named, speaking on behalf of the Teatro Español company, announced the sad news that had occurred that same day: the death of Manuel Gas, closely linked to this great theatre. Son of Sorozábal’s baritone of the same name, and brother to actor/stage director Mario, (current head of the theatre itself), this musician enjoyed a long and successful career as a jazz performer and musical director for a long list of popular Spanish singers. He often led the musical team joining his brother for music theatre shows. I’d pick out the recent and much acclaimed major Sorozábal stagings at the Español – La eterna canción and Adiós a la bohemia/Black el payaso – and the productions of two works on the border between opera and musical (Weill’s Mahagonny and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd), all vibrant readings given with hugely communicative theatrical skill. We add our condolences for this noteworthy loss.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2009