The Magic Opal
‘Did you like it or didn’t you like it?’, my friend La Linda Tapada asked me by WhatsApp, as I was leaving the Teatro de la Zarzuela. Truthfully at that moment, as I was speeding back to the airport by taxi, I replied that The Magic Opal had left me completely cold; indifference is the worst reaction to a theatrical performance that pretends to be radical but barely reaches the level of a joke.
After a few hours I began to get angry, and I must admit that I write these lines in a state of fury. Thanks to Freedom of Information laws, we can perform simple searches on Spain’s General State Administration website, allowing us to find out how public money is spent. Enter ‘Magic Opal’ in the search engine and enjoy the magic: almost 7,000€ was invested in a Spanish translation of The Magic Opal signed off by Javier Ibarz and Pachi Turmo, which the stage director – with the acquiescence of Daniel Bianco, we presume – has decided to throw away and make vanish. Abracadabra! In its place, Paco Azorín and his accomplice Carlos Martos de la Vega have come up with a confusing, crude new scenario that invites neither a return to the theatre nor a desire to know anything more about this unique title from Albéniz’s catalogue for the stage.
Has Joan Francesc Marco, the new director general of INAEM, who attended the premiere, taken note? It’s not just the unfortunate xenophobic and homophobic jokes; it’s not just that a new text is presented that leads nowhere and falls apart after fifteen minutes; it’s not that Albéniz’s score hardly shines – however well served by a reliable cast and Guillermo García Calvo’s impeccable conducting. It’s that this production, billed as The Magic Opal, is an insult to the audience’s intelligence, to their patience … and to the taxes they pay, now that Income Tax declaration date is coming up.
Twelve years ago our colleague Enrique Mejías published on zarzuela.net a review of the concert revival of this ‘comic opera’ (as defined in the original English) at the Auditorio Nacional. Since reading that – I don’t deny it – I’ve been looking forward to this moment, when I could enjoy the popular comedic qualities of Albéniz the musical dramatist. In Arthur Law’s English text, the composer’s inspiration is unmistakable and distinguished. This is an undeniably beautiful score, but one that says little with these staging elements. We should note that the initial idea of setting the opera as a platform console game has a certain grace and is undeniably attractive visually, although we don’t quite understand the final point. Each musical number is posed as a challenge or a test for individual contestants, which means that when we reach the choruses or the ballet, shipwreck is inevitable.
‘Reviving our heritage...’? I had the same, sad impression I took away from Gaztambide’s El sueño de una noche de verano, in Gustavo Tambascio’s dull and ill-advised posthumous production. To carry out these experiments, you have to have good playwrights who – what’s more – do not start from the concept that the piece they are going to stage is ‘bad’. Why decide to exhume a product that, from the outset, you consider mediocre? How long will we have to suffer this kind of exercise in hubris on the part of opera metteurs who have no interest in zarzuela beyond the musical scores?
I can’t finish without mentioning the real pleasure I had in listening to the dedicated first cast, willing to give their all on stage defending the indefensible. Their exercise in dignity and professionalism was led by Ruth Iniesta’s superb Lolika, Santiago Ballerini’s Alzaga, Carmen Artaza’s Martina and Luis Cansino’s Carambolas.
© Miccone and zarzuela.net, 2022