Music by Pablo Sorozábal / Libretto by the
We had already enjoyed the 2009 concert version later released on CD, but as the curtain descended slowly at the end of the third act of Juan José, on the night of February 5th 2016, we knew that we were witnessing an unforgettable historic event: the stage premiere of Sorozábal’s last work. As the muted trumpet froze our hearts by recalling the theme associated with Paco – the winner of the drama – another suspicion worried us even more: would Juan José finally be enjoyed and understood at a premiere such as this? Though Sorozábal himself predicted that “the world keeps turning, and maybe by 2000 Spain will have regained a solid musical culture, at least no worse than that of 1936,” the irony remains that we’re seeing this work on stage due to the artistic and personal commitment of an Italian: Paolo Pinamonti. Needless to say, Spanish musical culture is much worse in 2016 than in 1979, when the original premiere was thwarted – and now only a small audience exists for Juan José.
Pablo Sorozábal wrote his ‘popular Lyric drama’ thinking that there were many sentimental sons of Julián in La verbena de la Paloma just like himself, and the result was an overwhelmingly exciting and dramatically effective work. However, those who attempt to judge Juan José by pitting it against Spanish music of the 1960’s or 70’s are mistaken. This pessimistic and painful opera, written for humble people ‘with some heart’ after 1936, was not of its time. The widower Sorozábal probably created Juan José in isolation, thinking of himself and the totality of his work. Perhaps that’s why this lyric drama is only comparable with its ‘ópera chica’ sibling Adiós a la bohemia or with the harmonic eccentricities (if we can say that) of Las de Caín and La eterna canción.
The libretto adapted by Sorozábal from Joaquín Dicenta’s working-class drama has – especially in its second act – unsuspected resonances today that make the 21st century bourgeois viewer uncomfortable: unemployment, hunger and violence. The universality of its themes and the immense literary and musical dignity with which they are treated, make me think about the suitability of this work (which lacks virtually all ‘typical Spanish’ traits) for international dissemination. Although that may be a Utopian idea, we can at least hope that Juan José’s stage life does not end with these Madrid performances, and that it may soon be seen in other Spanish opera venues.
The Teatro de la Zarzuela took no risks for Juan José’s premiere by entrusting the stage production to José Carlos Plaza. His staging was conventional and simple, with some outdated expressionist aesthetics rather in the manner of some of his previous productions here, notably Los amores de la Inés / La verbena de la Paloma and La Dolores. The same applied to the sets and lighting of Paco Leal and Pedro Moreno’s costumes, regular collaborators of the stage director in these murky visions of a Spain as sordid as popular. Frankly I preferred the bright and imaginative stagings of Las golondrinas and Los diamantes de la corona, and even the more symbolist surrealisms of his El gato montés. More interesting were Enrique Marty’s backcloths, especially the beautiful second act panorama of Madrid’s snow-covered rooftops.
If nobody in the cast shone with special vocal light, they certainly made a reliable, balanced and committed team. In that sense, Rubén Amoretti’s Andrés and Carmen Solís as Rosa merited the warmest applause. But it would be unfair not to acknowledge Antonio Gandía’s good work in the grateful part of Paco, and of course Ángel Ódena in the title role. Amongst the comprimarios we should mention such habitués of Calle Jovellanos as Milagros Martín, Lorenzo Moncloa and Ricardo Muñiz alongside another noteworthy participant, the young Bulgarian bass Ivo Stanchev. Conductor Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez directed the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid Orchestra of the community of Madrid with discretion.
© Enrique Mejías García,