Prince Pio (Ismael Jordi) and Berta (Sabina Puértolas), La generala (Madrid 2008)  © Jesus Alcantara
La generala

Text • Guillermo Perrín and Miguel de Palacios
Music • Amadeo Vives

Madrid, Teatro de la Zarzuela
(8th March 2008)

review by   Christopher Webber

An affair of the heart…

Sagi nights at the Teatro de la Zarzuela are always a joy; fluid, graceful games, plotted and choreographed – usually, as here, by Nuria Castejón – with witty precision and vivacity. Sometimes style consumes substance, and when the Act 1 curtain rises on a white box filled with white chairs and prancing valets there’s a momentary sense that we’ve been here before. Not a bit of it. Emilio Sagi has a love affair with La generala. This is his second production in five years (the first was for Vienna) and its impeccable elegance doesn’t disguise the fact that after all, this is an affair of the heart.

La generala (Madrid 2008)  © Jesus AlcantaraThe triumph of this show – and it’s nothing less – is to maintain a perfect balance between the lightness of Vives’s score, with its British seasonings and operetta frivolities, and those rare moments of deeply romantic feeling, red roses in a crystal epergne. And what roses we’re offered! On CD it’s hard to appreciate all their beauties. How subtly the Act 1 dúo between Prince Pío and Berta is structured, for instance, and how delicately Vives evokes the Paris music hall memories by backing his famous tune with the ghost of an oompah bass. Such imaginative touches abound in a score which gets even stronger as it goes along. The final dúo, where the Prince succumbs to his dynastic fate and marriage with Olga, might so easily have made a clockwork conclusion to Perrín and Palacios’s lightweight plot, but Vives produces a masterpiece of growing romantic feeling, both plausible and touching, crowned by what’s possibly the best tune in a zarzuela which is full of them.

Prince Pio (Ismael Jordi) and Princess Olga (Sonia de Munck), La generala (Madrid 2008)  © Jesus AlcantaraAct 2, with its fully operational carousel, bosky woods and carnival trimmings, is a Fragonard nocturne, romance and humour neatly entwined. That Daniel Bianco’s setting doesn’t swamp the performers says something about Sagi’s focussed direction, which only falters in the brief comedy trio for the Kings and Berta (one carousel ride too many), and more about those performers themselves. Ismael Jordi has everything for Prince Pío. He’s tall, dark and handsome, and in full possession of a piquant, light lyric tenor to match his looks. Has Pío’s salida been better sung since Kraus and Vendrell? If anything Sabina Puértolas is even more exciting. Her confident, sensually explicit Berta is sung with a crushed-velvet beauty and personal phrasing which fully explains La generala’s magnetism to all around, of either sex. Puértolas has a great future ahead of her. Sonia de Munck’s precise, light-lyric Olga is fully able to hold its own, and her characterisation of the bespectacled anime-schoolgirl Princess is touchingly compounded of innocence, petulance and jejune sophistication.

Prince Pio (Ismael Jordi) and Berta (Carmen González, alternative cast), La generala (Madrid 2008)  © Jesus AlcantaraWith good support from Enrique Baquerizo as a gangly and laid-back King Cirilo, his basso profundo much more at home here than in the baritone roles he’s been singing lately, and from David Rubiera’s unusually young and potentially dangerous Tocateca, this was a near-perfect evening. If the chorus sounded thinner and less confident than it should, some of that is excused by Sagi’s balletic demands and the composer’s call for sub-divisions into maids, valets, lords, ladies … and a full platoon of Scotch Highlanders, kilts, sporrans and all. There was less excuse for some less than unanimous co-ordination between stage and pit, though the instrumental playing itself was fine enough to bring out all the fragrances of Vives’s musical bouquet. La generala goes on to the Théâtre du Chatelet, giving Parisians the chance to enjoy this most delightful of zarzuelas in a production fully worthy of its charms. They should seize it with both hands.

© Christopher Webber 2008

La generala (Madrid 2008)  © Jesus AlcantaraCast: Berta de Tocateca (La generala) - Sabina Puértolas/Carmen González; Príncipe Pío - Ismael Jordi/Enrique Ferrer; Princesa Olga - Sonia de Munck/Beatriz Díaz; Reina Eva - María José Suárez/Itxaro Mentxaka; Cirilo II - Enrique Baquerizo/Luis Álvarez; Clodomiro V - Miguel López Galindo; Duque de Sisa - José Luis Gago; General Tocateca - David Rubiera; Dagoberto - Enrique Viana; Guanajato - Richard Collins-Moore; El Coronel - Paco Navarro; El Capitán - Alberto Ríos; Ana - Ana Santamarina; Isabel - Ángeles Barragán; María - Paloma Curros; Natalia - Ana María Ramos; Laura - Paloma Suárez; Jorge - Joaquín Córdoba; Carlos - Enrique Bustos; Sirvienta - Amalia Barrio; Emilio Sagi (d.); Daniel Bianco (design); Jesús Ruiz (costumes); Eduardo Bravo (lighting); Nuria Castejón (choreography); Orquesta de la Comunidad De Madrid; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (d. Antonio Fauró); José Fabra (c.)

en español
Teatro de la Zarzuela programme note (Andrew Lamb)
La generala (synopsis)
zarzuela homepage

19 March 2008