The most celebrated zarzuela by “Maestro Soutullo y Vert” (as the symbiotic double composers have become singly known) is also one of the most prominent in the whole of Spanish lyric theatre. That it still lingers in the repertoire since its 1924 premiere at the Apolo, is down to its real merits – the great emotional intensity of its score, its rich melodic inventiveness, and the adequate contrast between the grace of its comic-dance rhythms and the sentimental passages of more romantic cut – all attractions that make this enjoyable score an uncommon joy.
Reoyo, Aramburu and Paso’s play text, nothing if not conventional but full of good theatrical situations, can be in itself interesting enough if its aesthetic and ethical codes can be taken on board, and this is something that Jesús Castejón shows in his Teatro de la Zarzuela production. He opts for letting the text bear the weight of the staging (though, of course, he does not hesitate to adapt prose dialogues to make for more fluent running.) This stance, brave as it looks, seems less so if we take into account the expressive force and immediacy of this story about Hurrah Henries in search of exciting new experiences, which is after all what La leyenda del beso is about. The wildly erotic and permanently pissed life of this gang of Daddies’ Boys during a weekend spent in the house of one of them, finds its right resonance in Soutullo and Vert’s high-voltage musical score.
The expansively vivacious Gorón of Rafa Castejón becomes a cornerstone. The Benjamin of the great family tribe honoured in this production – with father, mother and three children all involved – shows off his virtues as an excellent character actor in both dialogue and (partially cut) vocal numbers. The female Simeon of the troupe Ainhoa Aldanondo can not make a proper counterweight when the joyous 1st Act “Dúo de la pajita” with Castejón has been excised. In addition to this scandalous cut (which extends interminably the dialogue scene which it should punctuate) Eva Gancedo’s musical adaptation elects to shorten the musical frieze which opens the 2nd Act – another error. However, it’s only fair to mention the partial restoration of other sections – and even an entire number, the fortune-telling scene – traditionally mutilated in recordings, but included in Xavier de Paz’s critical edition used here.
As far as the love triangle of the plot goes, this particular night we had the intensely expressive singing of Amparo Navarro – deserving of greater public applause – which also had the merit of impeccable diction; a certain rigidity arose, however, when singing gave way to the spoken word, though the marginality of her character in relation to the main plot (the juvenile orgy) made this shortcoming less obvious. Juan Jesús Rodríguez can be accused of much more for the same reason, his acting failure in the central role only partially offset by elegant singing, understandably hotly applauded, but nonetheless lacking in conviction. Aquiles Machado built a hugely credible Ivan, who has kept his old qualities, as could be heard in phrasing of a quality rare amongst current zarzuela singers; the condition of his instrument is another matter, for the still-young Venezuelan had to push that to the limit of its possibilities throughout.
That was because the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid once again played with more volume and less nuance than might be desired, though perhaps they weren’t as bad as usual; Miquel Ortega was just about sufficiently skilled on this occasion to defeat these near-chronic evils of the house band. Nuria Castejón’s beautiful ballet that accompanied the famous intermedio between the two scenes of Act 2 managed to give expression to the love story through a summary mime. Despite its limitations (the budget was considerably less than the previous show’s, with some anodyne costumes and settings besides the interpretative deficiencies) the Magic of Theatre triumphed: this octogenarian Legend still makes its effect.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2008
Cast: Amapola -
Amparo Navarro; Mario - Juan Jesús Rodríguez; Iván -
Aquiles Machado; Simeona - Ainhoa Aldanondo; Gorón - Rafa
Castejón; Ulita - Pepa Rosado; Charito - Irene Santamaría; Margot
- Marina Claudio; Ketty - Esther Ruiz; Ernesto - Borja Elgea; Alfonso - Albert
López-Murtra; Coral - Raquel Esteve; Gurko - Fernando Coronado; Alesko -
Rafael Castejón; Estrella - Amara Carmona; Cristóbal - Pedro
Bachura; Señor Juan y Guardia Civil 1.º - Tomás Sáez;
Luis y Guardia Civil 2.º - Tony Cruz; Un mayordomo - Pedro Jerez; Un
gitano - Luis E. González; Un camarero - David Martín; Una gitana
- Ana Berrocal; Solo dancer - Cristina Arias; Stage musicans - Carlos
Blázquez (clarinet), Pavel Sakuta (guitar) y Alfredo Valero (accordion);
Director - Jesús Castejón; Design and costumes - Ana Garay;
Lighting - Eduardo Bravo (A.A.I.); Choreography - Nuria Castejón;
Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (director,
Antonio Fauró); Conductor - Miquel Ortega
12 June 2008