La verbena de la Paloma (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2024) c. Javier del Real

La verbena de la Paloma
lyric sainete in one act
with a lyric-comedy prologue Adiós, Apolo
Libretto: Ricardo de la Vega
Music: Tomás Bretón

Teatro de la Zarzuela
(Madrid, 8 May 2024)
a letter from

Dear Mr. Editor,

Perhaps you were surprised that yesterday I didn’t send you a telegram giving you my impressions of Nuria Castejón’s new production of La verbena de la Paloma. The truth is that I preferred to breathe deeply for a few hours, because lately I have the rather strange feeling that I’m becoming an old grump. It’s always the same: the almost general, delirious enthusiasm of the audience at first nights contrasts with my negativity. You, who know as well as anyone the very special dimension of this ‘sainete lírico’, will agree with me that the worst thing to do with it is to inflate it.

And this is not because of the Prologue written by Álvaro Tato (Adiós, Apolo), which can hardly be considered more than an exercise in nostalgia, with a couple of silly jokes and some musical numbers thrown in (the funnier for that, frankly). I say this because, by dint of not cultivating theatre-by-the-hour over so many years, Teatro de la Zarzuela’s house style has got covered in a blanket of leaf mould, compressed mainly from [bad] opera and the louder and more inflated ‘zarzuelones’ which the theatre usually trots out.

La verbena de la Paloma (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2024) c. Javier del RealImagine a Julián (Borja Quiza) and a Susana (Carmen Romeu) with voices that are harsh, out of style, never going below forte – and with dialogue, in Romeu’s case, heavy with the worst interpretative tics of a supposed ‘madrileñismo sainetesco’ that never really existed. For there are historical recordings, from before the Civil War, in which we can hear how these texts were actually said. Go figure a Señá Rita with Milagros Martín playing Milagros Martín in 2024, for that’s all there is to it. Imagine (of course!!) an amplified flamenco singer in the ‘Soledad’, with the Café de Melilla in full view of the audience, depriving the moment of its unique, naturalistic poetry and suddenly turning La Zarzuela into a home for Spanish dance shows. Will we ever see that second scene of La verbena as the text describes it...?

And dance is almost everything to this staging. It’s all too obvious that Nuria Castejón is really a choreographer: almost every number, from the Prelude onwards, is conceived scenically through dance. And although some of them, of course, have real impact, if I had to save one moment from the production I would single out the ‘Nocturne’! What an accomplished moment in every way, from Albert Faura’s lighting to – most emphatically – Mitxel Santamarina’s thrilling performance as the Night Watchman. I reserved my one ‘Bravo!’ of the evening for him. It is also true that such an atmosphere could not have been achieved without José Miguel Pérez Sierra’s very careful, refined musical direction. This being his first production as the house’s musical director, we can certainly expect some glorious nights under his baton.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Don Hilarión, who was played by Antonio Comas. The truth is that he was a real luxury, far removed from any cliché. Comas is an actor-singer from the top of the tree, as he has already showed in plays such as Amadeu (Albert Boadella) and Los Bufos Madrileños with the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico, just a few months ago. What freshness, all of a sudden, when you see artists so... well, artists performing zarzuela, instead of opera singers merging into the set or not knocking over the furniture. The same could be said of Rafa Castejón as the innkeeper and Ana Goya as Doña Severiana – more luxury! Gurutze Beitia as Tía Antonia confined herself to shouting and rushing her textual fences, but overall her performance did not strike me as memorable. Every time I think of this character I can’t help but recall Milagros Leal in the 1963 film, who gives the role its full vile and sordid, yet fearsome and reckless measure.

La verbena de la Paloma (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2024) c. Javier del Real

Now I write you this mail, I can’t help but admit that Nicolás Boni’s set design is very beautiful. For sure, the play is set in 1929, so Gabriela Salaverri’s costumes are the umpteenth reissue of the Roaring Twenties costumes that we’re bored to death of seeing in so many stagings. If we were to treat this production like a postcard or a San Isidro festival poster, they could have taken us back to Madrid in 1894. But here and now, that would be almost revolutionary!

Some of my Madrid friends were enthusiastic. Others preferred not to say anything. So as you see, maybe the problem is mine; although I believe that with such conventional and folkloristic conceptions as this, we are not walking a 21st century path, but rather retracing our steps to an era in which all interpretative tradition has been definitively lost, even though many think just the opposite. The generational change in the public has been mirrored by a change in performers and stage directors who, in my honest opinion, think that La verbena de la Paloma and Entre Sevilla y Triana are one and the same thing.

As we say here in Venice, the best essences come in small bottles... and in good glass. So for now, back to my ducal palace!

© Miccone and, 2024

Cast: Don Hilarión (Antonio Comas), Don Sebastián (Gerardo López), Julián (Borja Quiza), Señá Rita (Milagros Martín), Susana (Carmen Romeu), Casta (Ana San Martín), Tía Antonia (Gurutze Beitia), Cantaora (Sara Salado), Tabernero (Rafa Castejón), Inspector (José Luis Martínez), Portero (Alberto Frías), Portera (Nuria Pérez), Guardia 1 (Adrián Quiñones), Guardia 2 (Ricardo Reguera), Sereno (Mitxel Santamarina), Doña Severiana (Ana Goya), Doña Mariquita (Esther Ruiz), Mozo 1 (Andro Crespo), Mozo 2 (Albert Díaz), Teresa/Vecina 1 (Cristina Arias), Candelaria/Vecina 2 (M.ª Ángeles Fernández); Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (Antonio Fauró, dir.); c. José Miguel Pérez Sierra, d. Nuria Castejón

New Production by Teatro de la Zarzuela 2024

La verbena de la Paloma (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2023) programme cover

en español
Tomás Bretón (English)
La verbena de la Paloma (English)
portada de