Christopher Webber writes:
The last couple of months have
been fruitful ones for zarzuela production, not just in Madrid, but throughout
Spain: and not just in Castilian, but in Catalan too. This short digest
presents a Cook’s Tour of the recent Spanish-language reviews on
zarzuela.net, for English readers. The titles link to the full,
Any production by Emilio Sagi is certain to be an event, and this joint enterprise between Oviedo, Santiago (Chile) and Lausanne Opera (Switzerland) was no exception. Enrique Mejías admired the staging – especially the diaphanous settings, bold lighting and clean, colourful costumes – but expressed strong unhappiness about Sagi’s increased tendency to turn zarzuelas into operas by cutting out virtually all the dialogue. He argued strongly that although this might be defensible for bad or outmoded texts (as with Sagi’s Katiuska, La generala and Le chanteur de Mexico at the Paris Châtelet) it had had negative consequences to the work’s artistic integrity in the case of Luisa Fernanda.
In Pan y toros Mejías felt that Sagi had departed fatally from the spirit of the zarzuela, reducing some important secondary characters such as Tirana and Pepe-Hillo to cyphers, diluting the importance of many others, and rendering Picón’s complex drama a disconnected jumble. The lack of dialogue gave an eminent cast of actor-singers little opportunity to shine, though there was praise for Carmen González’s malevolent Doña Pepita, and for Emilio Sánchez’s juicy Abate Ciruela amongst others. The chorus – mainly confined to Sagi’s trademark wooden chairs! – came out well, and Jose M. Pérez-Sierra’s Oviedo Filarmonía warmed to their task as the evening progressed.
dúo de La africana
Another adaptation… Although many more traditional aficionados have disputed Teatro Lliure’s ploy to market their show under the title of the classic zarzuela [see for instance zarzuela.net’s interview with Carmen González] our Madrid Editor enthused about the stylish production, and the intelligent way in which Caballero and Echegaray’s work was used to frame a story about the misfortunes of a Catalan musical company touring an American banana republic. The resultant “surreal collage” merged the 19th century zarzuela with the crazy spirit of the Twenties. Performers and mise-en-scène both provided high-voltage pleasure; and Ignacio Jassa posed the secondary question of how far the work was truly inspired by the “original”, or how far it had provided a mere pretext upon which to hang what was an evocative and visually impressive show. Talking of which…
La corte del Faraón
… the same creative team, this time with a small, tight company of eight, once again came up with the goods in April. Although the repetition of the framing narrative seen in El dúo... struck a false note, what specially impressed our reviewer here was that instead of taking the usual course with this género ínfimo classic, by inflating it into a full evening of “camp kitsch”, La Reina de la Nit chose to present it as a short, almost Brechtian piece with a highly focused sexually and socially disruptive charge – surely an interpretative decision bringing it much closer to the original Teatro Eslava ideals. Jassa was full of praise for performers and production, and expressed the hope that the new company would tackle more género ínfimo works, but without framing devices. Time will tell.
Catalan adapters, performers… and here was that rarity, a Catalan sarsuela revived. El timbaler del Bruc (1964) was not only performed, but is also to be recorded with the Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu under Salvador Brotons and leading vocal soloists. José María Busqué Doménech praised the “simple and popular” music of this two act work, a love story set during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic war of independence. Cohí’s orchestration is noteworthy, and Sr. Busqué looked forward to hearing the recording to gain a more complete appreciation of the piece.
Finally, a digest of Enrique Mejías’s condensation of no less than three well-filled concert presentations of Chapí, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death. Ópera Cómica de Madrid will be presenting a large number of his zarzuelas during the year, and once again they are showing how far imagination, passion and excellence can compensate for lack of money. Mejías heard no less than eight zarzuelas over the three nights, with piano accompaniment, sung by young artists under the musical direction of Fernando Poblete, and with simple presentation by the indefatigable Francisco Matilla. Mejías singled out the virtually unknown Aquí hase farta un hombre (1909), which found Chapí in the territory of “Andalusian magic” usually associated with José Serrano; El cortejo de la Irene (1896), for some ravishing melodies; and La Sobresalienta (1905) for outstanding concision, and its “noble and delicious” inspiration. He can’t wait for the next instalment, on June 5th.
© Christopher Webber 2009