Zarzuela summer in Madrid
Madrid's summer has seen a prodigal amount of zarzuela. Three zarzuela seasons in the holiday period, plus two stagings as part of the repertoire of major theatres has made for a far from despicable total of eight productions, two of them double bills. To these we must add several celebratory, outdoor spectacular anthologies, taking advantage of balmy Madrilenian nights over the summer solstice.
Three summer seasons
Antonio Amengual's Compañía Lírica Española came this year to the Teatro de Madrid, near to the Commercial Center La Vaguada. One title on the roster attracted by its interest and rarity - Francisco Alonso's La linda tapada, which we saw in a traditional but well-prepared reading. Serrano's La canción del olvido in a somewhat antiquated staging, and a double bill combining Fernández Caballero's Gigantes y cabezudos with a Tribute to the Género Chico (which I missed) completed their repertoire.
The Teatro Calderón was the scene for a singular lyric adventure - Proyecto Verdi programmed four titles, some infrequently seen, though in the event only two made it to the stage. The two staged were La tabernera del puerto (Sorozábal) in a polished production first realised in Oviedo's Teatro Campoamor during 1999; and Las Leandras (Francisco Alonso) in a production new for the occasion. Both works relied at least as much on excellent vocal casting as on staging quality, not to mention good orchestral and choral support. It was a great pity that their season could not be completed, depriving us of Emilio Arrieta's Marina and Alonso's La calesera; it would perhaps have been more prudent for the troubled company only to announce the shows which they were sure of, rather than frustrate the expectations of their public.
The Centro Cultural de la Villa was occupied this year by Ópera Cómica de Madrid. In contrast to last year when they gave five stagings spread over a month, this year they only appeared for two weeks with just one double bill - Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente and El bateo, by Federico Chueca.
Other zarzueloid events
The Sabatini Gardens in the Royal Palace, were the scene for a series of night spectacles baptized Lyric Frolics under the aegis of that selfsame Proyecto Verdi. Taking as a starting point that timeworn concept, the anthology, they brought in some novel ideas that lent to these "frolics" something new. In the first place the anthology was not restricted to zarzuela, but included Spanish revue and European operetta as well as zarzuela grande and género chico, in four sections. The numbers followed one another without much attempt at continuity, and although the union among them was negligible - except in the general style of the works - they nevertheless created a thread of sorts that served as an excuse for the succession of music-theatre fragments, by introducing a young Madrid rapper, living his music with passion, teaching us that before him, other musicians lived with equal fervour in his city.
Dazzling choreography and effective lighting made this show very attractive to the eye. The performers doubled as soloists and choristers which gave a real ensemble sense to proceedings - to the point where we got Rosa's romanza from El rey que rabío sung by four sopranos simultaneously. I have to report an inadequate sound balance, some shortcomings in rehearsal, and an over-small orchestra; although the excellent musical arrangements made for the occasion made it hard to believe there were only seven musicians in the pit.
The Bullring at Las Ventas was home to an Anthología de la Zarzuela announced as a "spectacular", done by José Luis Moreno's Miramón Mendi company. The same company cancelled the remainder of the zarzuela season they were due to mount at the Teatro de la Latina.
Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente / El bateo; Música: Federico Chueca; Libretos: Miguel Ramos Carrión / Antonio Paso y Antonio Domínguez; Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid, 5 y 13 de Agosto de 2005; Nueva Producción de Ópera Cómica de Madrid
The season at the Centro Cultural de la Villa was reduced to a single production seen for two weeks. This apparent parsimony - compared against previous years where there was a month's season at least if not two - was compensated for by the quality of the staging on offer, an exceptional double bill of two Chueca masterpieces.
The starting point for both stagings was the same: instead of inviting the audience to attend a conventional performance they were invited to watch a rehearsal of these theatre pieces. The difference between the two was the era for each rehearsal; for Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente the time of the work's premiere was chosen, whilst El bateo presented a vision of our own time. In this way those elements common to both were emphasised: an identical room, people common to both - the prompter, the accompanist, the director and so forth; realistic scenery appropriate to each staging and technical machinery used in the make-believe rehearsals - painted curtains against virtual stage settings - served to mark the contrast over almost 110 years. The stagings of both works sought unity in diversity, and found expression in the differences.
The staging of the first sainete recreated a rehearsal in the Teatro Apolo during June 1897. From the details - a rehearsal room with upright piano, props and stage furniture; to costumes - the performers work in their street clothes - everything shown contributes to an exquisite flavour of the time. For El bateo, the modern rehearsal ambience examines the 19th c. sainete - although strictly speaking the piece was premiered in the first year of the 20th - through the prism of 21st century theatre conventions, allowing us to look objectively at the value of género chico today. A modern staging using evocative projections or dynamic choreography, against a bare stage - eternal symbol of the rehearsal - highlighted most expressively the intense human history contained in this zarzuela.
The particular naturalism of this staging justified some textual changes for both sainetes. On one side cuts in the dialogues, and on the other extra scenes referring to the rehearsal setting were included. This gave fluidity to the succession of spoken scenes "in rehearsal", separated by brief exchanges that helped explain the visual contexts we were meant to have in mind, at the same time contributing to the sense of the rehearsal's epoch - specially useful with Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, by reference to the performers, their habits and so forth.
The performers mostly had a clear mastery of all aspects of this difficult sub-genre, the género chico, that at the time bred actors and singers specialising in its techniques, and for whom today, when the prevalent motto is "specialize or die", sadly the only school is the boards. We can relish their talent in delivering the songs with musical and verbal skill, for it's equally important to sing and interpret zarzuela music well. Of the competent cast I'd single out Trinidad Iglesias, fast becoming one of the best character actresses of the day, brilliant in her two roles, and Luis Álvarez, notably on form as Wamba in El bateo.
In sum, an authentic, blessed staging for all lovers of the género chico; specially for those who value not only the works but also their origins, and who are ready for the seductive nostalgic charms of seeing a historical snapshot of the interpreters, theatres, creators, and other elements that constitute the living history of this wonderful music-theatre spectacle. To have been able to travel back for a few moments to a rehearsal at the Apolo or to see a modern staging full of promising, new scenic possibilities, made for two extremely rewarding experiences. Thanks to Ópera Cómica de Madrid for helping us feel once again the miracle of the great zarzuela chica!
Cast: Lola Casariego (Pepa/Visita, 5th); Mar Abascal (Pepa/Visita, 13th); Thais de la Guerra (Manuela); Rosa Gutiérrez (Asia/Nieves); Trinidad Iglesias (Doña Simona/Valeriana); Luis Álvarez (Lorenzo/Wamba); Javier Ferrer (Vicente); Juan Manuel Cifuentes (Serafín/Virgilio); Javier Ibarz (Don Aquilino/Lolo); Mario Rodrigo (Pamplinas); Coro de Ópera Cómica de Madrid; Orquesta Ensamble Instrumental de Madrid; Mariana Mara (costume); Pedro Pablo Melendo (lighting); Belén Bris (choreography); Francisco Matilla (d.); Carlos Cuesta (c.)
If the announcement of Proyecto Verdi's summer season produced great pleasure and surprize, still more did their inclusion of two "Alonsos" infrequently seen although very well known, Las Leandras and La calesera (although finally this was withdrawn from the schedules;) which added to La parranda and La linda tapada, made sure that the inspired Granada composer was at the forefront of Madrid's summer music.
The famous 1931 revista was carefully prepared theatrically and musically. The only artistic caveats - fair lighting and choreography, discreet costuming, a somewhat poor staging - were down to the budgetary limitations, allied to a somewhat conventional conception.
The mounting of this difficult piece was valiantly assayed. The text was hardly touched - very few changes were made to add contemporary touches - and the dialogue retained with integrity. We had an orthodox, faithful musical reading of the original orchestration including almost the whole score - the terceto del divorcio had to be omitted due to non-availability of the score - publishers take note, please! Altogether the effect was harmoniously balanced, more in line with the zarzuela tradition (as in the work's first production) than with modern revue, a categorisation which tends to undermine this piece's artistic reputation by association with the gradually devalued, modern Madrid revista.
Carlos Durán's direction deserves to be showered with praise. It is brilliant, though it should be added that his task was comparable to sweet rain on a fertile field, due to the talent of the whole cast. A piece such as Las Leandras offers extreme interpretative difficulty, since the borderline is very narrow between truthful interpretation and caricature. Each and every one of the actors and singers spoke and sang their roles with the necessary ease - tricky in itself - but without going over the top, and that is the prime merit of the direction.
The music was most pleasurably done. The orchestra was perfectly balanced, the chorus sang with enormous élan; the singers sang with precise confidence; Luis Remartínez undertook the difficult task of restoring numbers best known to the public in pop travesties to a "classical" sound world, without making the music seem old fashioned - another gain in musical substance.
Of the cast the pair of Conchas should be singled out. If Gemma Castaño was a glamorous star, María José Santos de Dios came closer to the heart of the role; both sang very well and without impersonating opera singers. Santos de Dios alternated as Aurora with María Dolores Coll, the other character with plenty to sing, both making a good contrast with their respective Conchas. Emilio Gavira played Porras delectably; and Jose Alberto García's judicious Leandro, full of double-edged jealousy, completed the quartet of protagonists. The two pairs of comic actors (José Luis Gago-Amparo Madrigal, Carmen Márquez-José Ramón Iglesias) showed true mastery in the 'provincial' roles, most difficult to cast. Manuel Brun, as Don Francisco, contributed a viejo del hongo ("Man in the Bowler Hat") wonderfully evoking the nostalgic days of the Teatro Apolo, but in the best modern guise.
It is a real pleasure to enjoy a legendary work like this in the company of such a set of interpreters as were brought together here. The only pity is that production costs and a certain submission to "the tradition" prevented a more daring artistic ambition. When will we get to see the long-promised staging by Emilio Sagi at the Teatro de la Zarzuela?
Cast: Gemma Castaño (Concha, 7th); María José Santos de Dios (Aurora, 7th; Concha 6th); María Dolores Coll (Aurora, 6th); José Alberto García (Leandro); Emilio Gavira (Porras); José Luis Gago (Tío Francisco); Amparo Madrigal (Manuela); Carmen Márquez (Fermina); José Ramón Iglesias (Casildo); Manuel Brun (Don Franciso/El viejo del hongo); Ballet, coro y orquesta Proyecto Verdi; Pablo Gago (design); Toño Camacho (lighting); Ana Gómez (choreography); Carlos Durán (d.); Luis Remartínez (c.)
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2005