Spectacular Murcian Magic
Before the show opened, director Emilio Sagi had seemed to zarzuela.net's ever-acute Madrid Editor strangely nervous, lest his decision to cut La parranda's spoken dialogue to the bone might offend those purists who feel that tampering with a repertory standard is always a mistake. He need not have worried. The classic zarzuela of the Murcian landscape and people is borne aloft not by the librettist's fustian verse, but by a score fully capable of propelling the drama forward with minimal help from the text. Alonso's music may be simple and unpretentious, but it is none the less the work of a sophisticated master of his craft, whose personal voice shines through at nearly every point. His score is presented complete, which means that we hear at least six numbers unrepresented in either of La parranda's available recordings. In the event, an outstanding season at the Teatro de la Zarzuela has ended in triumph for all concerned - and with some of the loudest cheers reserved for Sagi himself.
Shorn of Ardavín's more sententious monologues, La parranda emerges as a streamlined, rural romance about a baritone/soprano pair, all the more passionate - as in La del soto del parral and La rosa del azafrán - for being beyond youth's first, fine careless rapture. Aurora's feeling is intensified by a past which she fears will catch up with her, Miguel's by a sense that in capturing her heart he has achieved the one, great act of his life. Their dúo early in Act 1 is a powerful declaration of faith; the impressively built Act 2 wedding sequence is crowned by a compliment from the man to his wife - Miguel's romanza "Diga usted, señor platero" - at once unpretentious, heartfelt and noble. That number well merits its popularity, as does the ubiquitous Canto a Murcia, a meeting of moonlit rondalla-serenade and tauromaquial, choral swagger which makes for one of the most stirring act curtains in all zarzuela.
The show's strength is that it presents both love story and popular mosaic head on, without resorting to a clutter of folkloristic detail or social comment on harassment down the pottery factory. Ricardo Sánchez-Cuerda's set, a slatted wooden platform bounded by stone walls which slide apart to reveal breathtaking panoramic skies, is worked imaginatively throughout, most especially in the Canto a Murcia itself. Not only do we get all 112 stars promised by Miguel to his beloved, we also get a marvellous moon, and sinister palm trees looming up through the shadowed slats in the wolf-light. All this is as far from realism as can be imagined, outrageously over the top, and utterly magical. The mini-orchard planted by the women's chorus as scene dressing for the lover's final apotheosis is almost as striking; and elegant 1950's costuming amplifies the unfussy lucidity of a spectacular production which is both modern and timeless.
Nor do the human agencies fall short. The Teatro de la Zarzuela is fortunate to have such a superbly marshalled chorus and orchestra to draw upon, and nobody should take Miguel Roa's sensitivity in this repertoire for granted. Tempi and balance are perfect, ensemble remarkably accurate given the difficulties posed by the wide open on-stage spaces. Roa treats Alonso's score with affection, understanding and the respect it fully deserves.
Two remarkable performances set the seal on the evening. Carlos Bergasa presents Miguel as a slight, stooped, ordinary man ennobled by love. All this is a long way from the posturing, zarzuela leading man of tradition; refined dynamic control mean he doesn't have to bellow for his well-placed baritone to be heard. Ruth Rosique's voice gives pleasure of a very special order, clear and even throughout its range, liquid of timbre, not a note out of tune or a hair out of place. This is the most compelling soprano singing I have heard at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and it is supported by restrained acting which conveys the depths of Aurora's hopes and despair without any need for flailing display. Rosique's talent is already making its presence felt on the opera stages of the world. Let's hope it will not consequently be lost to La Zarzuela.
If the supporting cast seem ciphers, that may be in part miscasting, part the downside of Sagi's slicing of the text. But such radical surgery is justified when it ensures the music of La parranda comes across as freshly as the day it was written. Ardavín may be turning in his grave, but I think we can be sure that not so very far away on Calle de Alcala, the bust of Maestro Alonso wears a secret smile at the honour being done him down the road in Jovellanos.
© Christopher Webber 2005
La parranda, zarzuela in three
Change of cast, change of emphasis. On the debit side, Cansino's robust, blustery Miguel is a throwback to the old stand and deliver method. It pleased the audience, but didn't do much for me. Serrano's silver-dagger soprano is worn down to base metal in the middle of the voice, though she produces an impressive body of tone in alt. Their acting was communicative but generalised, their stage relationship conventional.
Credit though to Bayón and Crooke, whose gawky enthusiasm projected the comedy lovers much more strongly than Abascal and Esteve Madrid had managed. Their lively interplay also had the effect of energising legendary veteran Rafael Castejón's peddlar-intelligencer Don Cuco - the previous evening had found him alarmingly frail and well-nigh detached from proceedings.
© Christopher Webber 2005
29 June 2005
After seeing three different casts in the same production it's very difficult to judge objectively judge the work of the third without reference to the other two. In this sense it's easy to undervalue the pairing of Maria Rey-Joly and José Julian Frontal. The Madrilenian soprano has not yet the measure of Aurora; below mezzo forte she was drowned by the orchestra. In addition she is a singer who maintains her vocal projection during the dialogue, creating a precise but pedantic effect. Another Madrid-born singer, Frontal showed great sensitivity in his solos, never singing with coarse crudity (the kind of thing that ensures audience plaudits); his reward was a great final ovation for his measured interpretation of Miguel. Its limitation lies in his stiffly-acted portrayal of this so-human character.
As a consequence, the lack of theatrical weight of both singers generated little chemistry between them. Esteve Madrid was more eloquent than at the opening of the run, his comedy more natural and extremely effective. Bayón exhibited on the other hand remarkable musical dexterity. In the pit Luis Remartínez achieved good playing and balance, in spite of certain moments of insecurity between him and the singers on the stage. Sagi 's team ensures the production could hardly be bettered.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2005