In torrid heat and pitted against the Euro-2008 final, the most torrid of “biblical operettas” came to the capital of Turuel. Following Emilio Sagi’s La bruja last season, La corte de Faraón was the second zarzuela to reach the stage of the brand new Palau de les Arts, continuing what appears to be a policy of one a year, given the announcement of Chapí’s El rey que rabió for next season in Luis Olmos’ Teatro de la Zarzuela staging.
For starters we might regret the provincial planning of the Palau’s programmers in limiting their radar coverage to composers from País Valencià. But even more regrettable is, that even granted this premise, why fall back on such hackneyed titles? Is there no Lleó beyond La corte de Faraón? Would this not have been the ideal opportunity for a double bill of La corte, with say El método Gorritz or Los hombre alegres? And when it comes to Chapí, does he not deserve an in-house production or partnership with another venue, substituting a less predictable title? As always the rub lies in a lack of desire to innovate or use a little imagination – but does any programmer know what that is…?
Coming to this Corte de faraón, integrated into the Festival del Mediterrani, I should mention that its director, Francisco Negrín, places it – according to his own words – as “a modern revue … I wanted to give a meaning to these cabaret, operetta and revue scenes … to reveal what they could not say so overtly in their own time, and find a new environment in which each moment of the score was justified stylistic and dramatically.” This alleged injection of “therapeutic humour” has spawned, in my view, a monstrous parade of bad taste and theatrical stupidity.
When librettists Perrín and Palacios devised their delirious vision of sacred history they played with the idea of sifting the bawdy strengths of género ínfimo through the sieve of elegant operetta. Suggestion without overt statement, showing little but leaving much to the imagination is the precise spark which animates pieces such as La corte de Faraón, which never end up working in these revue-style spectaculars. This delicate dish does not taste good submerged under the gargantuan vulgarities cooked up by respected stage director Negrin, who to be fair does make a good fist of using the space of the Palau’s Symphony Hall to host a staging of positively Pharaonic magnitude.
The show had better luck in on-stage personnel. Enrique García Asensio’s musical direction was technically correct if somewhat stiff and detached, whilst the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana did their stuff with discretion. First prize amongst the singers went to the veteran Linda Mirabal, whose theatrically imperious La Reina was tops in her brief, sung appearances (oh that delightful waltz!), her voice still fresh and powerful. Another surprise was debutante Maite Alberola, 3rd Prize Winner in Operalia 2006, as Raquel. She put over her two beautiful contributions, the exquisite phrase “Te aguarda mi señora la cámara nupcial” and the nocturne “La luz de la luna se quiebra en el Nilo”, quite beautifully. Soledad Cardoso was a serviceable Lota/Josephine Bonaparte …. yes, the personage who here decides to mount the little show La corte de Faraón for her impotent and homosexual (?) husband Napoleon, a framing device to stretch out the un-stretchable with irritating nonsense. The strength of short works, whether this operetta or La verbena de la Paloma itself, lies precisely in their brevity: their essence is easily lost, like a perfume which evaporates when it’s moved to a larger bottle.
The three delightfully abandoned Theban Widows were Pilar Vázquez, Begoña Alberdi and Eugenia Bethencourt, with boys routine included. José Miguel Sola showed his usual professionalism as the High Priest and Marco Moncloa was a Pharaoh whose plumes remained erect despite the rigours of the garrotín dance. Actor Stéphane Facco was the gay Napoleon who by the end of the show – as indicated by the little homily from his Egyptian guide Alberto Mateo – “had found his own song.”
Well, fine … or not. For anyone sexually liberated for more than about ten minutes, this crude little morsel made from La corte de Faraón was too much of a farrago to take seriously, despite all its claims to “good humour.”
P.S.: The Superstar of Babylon Rossy de Palma was jolly good, though, thank you!
© Enrique Mejías García
Cast: Soledad Cardoso (Lota), Linda Mirabal (la
Reina), Maite Alberola (Raquel), Pilar Vázquez (Ra), Rossy de Palma
(Sul), Begoña Alberti (Sel), Eugenia Bethencourt (Ta), Marco Moncloa (el
Gran Faraón), Alejandro Guerrero (José), Javier Franco (el
General Putifar), Javier Agulló (el Copero de Su Majestad), José
Miguel Sola (el Gran Sacerdote), José Enrique Requena (Selhá),
Boro Giner (Seti), Stéphane Facco (Napoleón Bonaparte, actor),
Alberto Mateo (el guía, actor). Director: Francisco Negrin. Set and
costumes: Louis Désiré. Choreography: Ana Yepes. Lighting: Bruno
Poet. Orquestra de la Comunidad Valenciana, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana.
Conductor: Enrique García Asensio
18 July 2008