The exhibition Las misiones pedagógicas (1931-1936) (“Educational Missions 1931-36”) organized by the Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales and mounted in Madrid’s Conde Duque cultural centre has produced a complementary program of concerts and puppet plays with which it has tried to add “image and sound” to the historical narrative of that impressive project to democratize Spanish culture developed during the time of the Second Republic.
The prime musical protagonist of those “missions” was the Asturian musicologist and composer Eduardo Martínez Torner (1888-1955), a man bound to the musical generation of “27” – that is, of the Republic. Although his fundamental mission in this context was the direction of the Coro del Pueblo and the preparation of a vocal repertoire suited to its educational aims, the samples of his output chosen for this event were his only two complete zarzuela scores, written and premiered in Madrid shortly before the proclamation of the Republic: the successful La promesa (“The Promise”, 1929); and the unnoticed La maragata (“The Girl from the Maragatería”, 1931) composed in collaboration with Guillermo Cases.
In his two incursions into zarzuela, Martínez Torner demonstrated a creative talent fully capable of synthesising the formulaic use of zarzuela grande (in the then fashionable regional style) with a compositional breath of fresh air. This is manifest in great faithfulness to quoted folkloric elements, taken direct from the regions concerned and given modal harmonization and plain orchestrations; and in his dramatic use of that material, in contrast to its habitually ornamental function. Such an attitude to composition is at one with his investigate work on Spanish popular music, and with his critical position on the way such music was used in the zarzuela of the time. These two pieces also abound with moments where incidental music sounds against dialogue, added to a surprisingly ample, soaring lyricism in some of the vocal numbers, clear connections with verismo and great theatrical effectiveness.
The concert allowed us to hear the thirteen musical numbers in each of these two-act zarzuelas. In La promesa as in La maragata, the storylines followed the intrigues of two love triangles, unfolding in the rural ambit of Asturias and León respectively, and relying dramatically in the classic vocal trio of baritone, soprano and tenor. Federico Gallar, Sonia de Munk and Alejandro Roy all put Martínez Torner’s music across enthusiastically. Gallar was in powerful voice throughout, first nobly at the service of the hero Miguelón in La promesa and then full of villainy to incarnate the perfidious Antonio in La maragata – bravo to him! Roy mirrored Gallar, as baddy in one and goody in the other, providing lucid moments of dramatic tension and virtuosity; as for Munk, caught between two streams in both, she struggled heroically between passion and despair in roles of evident interpretative difficulty.
In addition both zarzuelas boast an energetic comedy pair, which contributes to choral numbers and ensembles as well as providing its own dúos. Mar Abascal and Enrique R. del Portal, great savants of the comedic mysteries of the genre, were on this occasion los graciosos charged with making self-assured winks to relieve the serious air pervading both dramas. The Ensamble de Madrid in its orchestral guise and Ópera Cómica de Madrid’s chorus lent passionate support to an exciting evening led from the rostrum by the talented Carlos Cuesta.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro
La promesa (Music:
Eduardo Martínez Torner; Text: Alfredo Escosura & Fernando Dicenta);
La maragata (Music: Eduardo Martínez Torner & Guillermo
Cases; Text: Alfredo Escosura & Enrique López Alarcón).
Cast: Federico Gallar (Miguelón/Antonio); Sonia de Munk (Nela/Rosa);
Alejandro Roy (Víctor/Javier); Mar Abascal (Celuca/Mari Pepa); Enrique
R. del Portal (Silvino/Bastián); Coro de Ópera Cómica de
Madrid; Ensamble de Madrid; Carlos Cuesta (conductor)