Madrid Otra Mirada
Ruth Iniesta and Miguel Angel Arqued (photo: Enrique Mejias)

Ruth Iniesta (soprano)
Miguel Ángel Arqued (piano)

18 October 2014
Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid

reviewed by Christopher Webber

Programme: Barbieri: ‘Un tiempo fue’ (Jugar con fuego); Arrieta: ‘Pensar en él’ (Marina); Chapí: ‘Mi tío se figura’ (El rey que rabió); Chueca/Valverde: Tango de la Menegilda (La Gran Vía), Vals de la bujía (Luces y sombras); Giménez/Nieto: ‘Me llaman la primorosa’ (El barbero de Sevilla); Ángel Rubio: Escena y vals (La salsa de Aniceta); Vives: Canción del ruiseñor (Doña Francisquita); Alonso: ‘Ni siquiera lo puedo pensar’ (Rosa la pantalonera); Sorozábal: ‘No corté más que una rosa’ (La del manojo de rosas); Torroba: Habanera (Monte Carmelo). Encore: Giménez: La tarántula (La tempranica)

I was facing an unhappy ‘first’ this weekend. A little-known piece called Carmen was doing her business at Teatro de la Zarzuela, and I was leaving Madrid too soon to catch El caserío at Teatro Real. Opera at TdlZ? Zarzuela at TR?? It’s a mad world, my masters. Thus it was, that I found myself staring into a black abyss – the prospect of the first zarzuela-free zone, since my regular visits to the city started back in 1997.

Little wonder I greeted the news of Ruth Iniesta’s free recital, with Miguel Ángel Arqued in the Circle Bar of Teatro de la Zarzuela, as the Israelites greeted Manna from Heaven. Evidently I was not the only starving zarzuelero in town. The queue stretched right around the block from Jovellanos into Madrazo; and as las viejecitas madrileñas were at their combative best in grabbing the 100 or so seats, there seemed to be more danger of a riot than at June’s anti-monarchist demonstrations in Puerta del Sol. Finally, with extra chairs packed in and aficionados hanging onto chandeliers, craning over distant balconies and loitering in the aseos, the recital got underway.

And what a treat we had. Soprano and pianist had chosen their repertoire well, leavening the weight of the popular romanzas y canciones with a number of appetising – and very tasty – rarities. What bliss to hear the little-known Vals from Chueca’s Luces y sombras, as characteristic a piece of Chueca’s as you could wish. What a nice change to be offered the French musical accents of Ángel Rubio, in the exquisite delicacy of another Vals, from his 1879 gem La salsa de Aniceta. How good to hear the smouldering habanera from Alonso’s forgotten, late two-act zarzuela Rosa la pantalonera. Not to mention those familiar, but equally unjaded, classics.

Ruth Iniesta (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2014) Photo: Mr SimpsonOf course all this would have meant little without such impressive advocacy. Iniesta’s pitch-perfect, light-lyric soprano is strikingly even throughout the registers, strongly projected and unfailingly pleasant to hear. She and her sensitive partner rang the musical changes beautifully, from the light comedy of Aniceta, through the nobility of the bolero from Jugar con fuego, to the intense pain of Sorozábal’s betrayed flower girl. Perhaps the biggest musical surprise came at the end of the official programme: I for one had never realised just how rich and powerful the soprano solo from Torroba’s Monte Carmelo could be, before experiencing Iniesta’s take on it.

There are doubtless a fair number of sopranos who manage this repertoire well, even the daunting coloratura of Vives’s “nightingale song” from Doña Francisquita. Where Iniesta rises above the competition is in her intelligent way with the words, and her ability to evoke a host of varied characters, from Chapí’s melancholy Alcalde’s daughter, surprised and not a little indignant with herself for falling in love with a mere shepherd, through to the knowing directness of La tempranica’s gypsy boy, stamping on the tarantula at the end of his pert little lesson on the stupidity of love.

Enough. The recital was a joy from start to finish. Iniesta’s natural, unforced charm and enthusiasm for sharing these wonderful songs with an eager audience won all hearts. I flew back to London a happy bunny. And Teatro de la Zarzuela should host this sort of music more often.

© Christopher Webber and, 2014

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