A total eclipse of the moon couldn’t stop a shining night of zarzuela. Coming into Leganés I thought: “Well, let’s see how it works”. An unusual double bill is always intriguing. Unfortunately in Madrid we’re too used to tried and tested combinations such as Gigantes-Revoltosa or Verbena-Agua, azucarillos… This one was a surprise – an opera by Wolf-Ferrari, with a juguete cómico by Fernández Caballero?...
Oh yes. There was music, much music. And vice… very much vice.
The title of the double bill was far from insignificant. In Il segreto di Susanna we have an Italian young lady who’s a hardened smoker and who hides the fact from her husband. And naturally when her caro sposo sniffs out the aroma of tobacco in the drawing room he thinks the worst, and Troy is come again. Arniches would present something very similar in the second act of La venganza de la Petra hardly eight years later – from Italy to Spain is only one step, and machismo has everything to do with both.
Fernández Caballero also knew something about contented smokers, as witness his unforgettable Chilean Women in Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant. This time, though, he chose to get us tipsy in Chateau Margaux, with its story of a somewhat anxious newly-wedded wife who decides one day to take to drink, so as not to be at a disadvantage in front of her husband’s prim and super-rich relatives. When to top it all you’ve a Gallician servant in the house who’s also fond of the bottle, dancing the muñeira and gypsy garrotín then… off we go!
Both librettos, it must be said, are awash with spontaneous and farcical situations; but listening first to an opera in Italian followed by a zarzuela in Castilian, with all the verbal play and theatrical spark which the opera naturally lacks, comparisons are inevitable. I put it to my friends: What is it about la zarzuela? How does she grab us like this?
Wolf-Ferrari is an exquisite composer who recalls at one moment Leoncavallo, the next Cimarosa, the next Richard Strauss – mad mixture! His music is very pleasant, melodic and… bourgeois. We won’t say that Caballero’s muse is not elegant, but certainly there is a special “something” about it. A touch of improvisation, a streetwise trick, will surprise us as we listen. We can say without fear or favour that the dúo between Angelita and José is one of the most inspired comedy-flamenco numbers in Spanish lyric theatre. And what about their coplas? Not to mention the mega-hit that was and is, the vals “No sé que siento aquí”? …
In spite of this, KL Ópera’s interpretation was superior in the Italian opera: light, dynamic, fluid, that is to say very rounded and impeccably rehearsed. The production of Chateau Margaux was new-born and still at the crawling stage. I’m quite sure that as soon as it begins to walk upright it will quickly and safely become a success.
The Wolf-Ferrari featured Amparo Navarro, sensual and stupendously sweet-toned as Susanna. His husband, Leonardo Neiva, has a beautiful instrument intelligently used, and it is was a pity he had a cold on performance day. Aurelio Puente was the mute major-domo, conveying in a handful of gestures all the graces particular to this peculiar personage. He doubled up in Fernández Caballero’s zarzuela, breathing life into his nicely flavoursome José when singing “¡Ay, serrana, que ya no te quiero más porque no me da la gana!” [ “Ay, my girl of the mountains, I only want you more because you don’t give me what I desire!”]. Gloria Londoño did not quite take advantage of the bonbon offered her by the role of Angelita. Over-concerned to hide her Colombian accent she fell short on the theatrical side, although singing well and with admirable diction. The comic actors Félix Granados (Barón de la Lombarda), Isabel Arcos (Doña Laura) and Kuya Manzano (Manuel) were all one could have desired.
Alexandra Panzavolta’s staging was as elegant and aesthetically pleasing as the refined playing of Agrupación Musical Orfeo under Arturo Díez Boscovich. The reduced sextet version of Il segreto de Susanna, to tell truth, shone superbly.
A very pleasant evening. The moon hid, but the magic of the composer of El cabo primero o La gallina ciega shone out in his first truly inspired composition, together with the tender neoclassicism of the composer who was to write that fine opera Sly. Programmes like these are exactly what’s wanted at this point of the game; although I, ladies and gentlemen, will think of myself henceforward as an addict to the “vice of zarzuela”.
© Enrique Mejías García
segreto di Susanna: Susanna – Amparo Navarro; Conde Gil –
Leonardo Neiva; Mayordomo – Aurelio Puente. Chateau Margaux:
Angelita – Gloria Londoño; José – Aurelio Puente;
Barón de la Lombarda – Félix Granado; Luisa – Isabel
Arcos; Manuel – Kuya Manzano. Agrupación Musical Orfeo, Arturo
Díez Boscovich (c.); Alexandra Panzavolta (d.)