‘This repertoire is crazy, beautiful’
We experienced a very special night at Teatro de la Zarzuela. Sonya Yoncheva, one of the most acclaimed singers of the era, gave a concert exclusively dedicated to zarzuela. It was her first experience of the genre. The Bulgarian soprano has demonstrated her flexibility in numerous recordings and broadcasts, singing with ease everything from the baroque to Puccini, and in Madrid we’d enjoyed her at Teatro Real in a magnificent Il pirata, by Bellini. But this was something else, because she faced an unfamiliar repertoire – though not different, in that zarzuela music merits its place alongside the greatest lyric stage music. Yoncheva herself acknowledged this gratefully, when she told the audience before the encore that ‘this repertoire is crazy, beautiful’.
It was nothing less. The soprano herself very much enjoyed the concert, risking an extensive programme that went far beyond the genre’s standard songs. She filled us with emotion with unusual romances such as ‘Lágrimas mías’ from Miguel Marqués's El anillo de hierro, ‘La luz de la noche’ from Millán's El pájaro azul and ‘Yo me vi sola en el mundo’ from El juramento by Gaztambide, gorgeously lyrical examples of three composers who deserve to be heard more often, pieces that we best know through the wonderful recordings of Teresa Berganza and Montserrat Caballé. Good models, which Yoncheva’s voice matches without problem, a round, rich instrument splendidly centred, maintaining intensity in long phrases, filling the theatre with sonorous beauty. Perhaps one of the most moving moments was ‘No corté más que una rosa’ from La del manojo de rosas, where her voice touched us deeply, through the swift mood changes Sorozábal conjures in this emotional romanza.
Elsewhere she took opportunities to enjoy the ‘craziness’ she mentioned, such switchback varieties of rhythms and vocal turns as in the brilliant coloratura of the famous song from El niño judío, the pulsing carceleras from Chapí’s Las hijas de Zebedeo and the ‘bullfighting’ duet’ in pasodoble rhythm from El gato montés, which showcased the Andalusian energies of guest tenor Alejandro del Cerro. In the midst of this musical wealth, very well ordered by Yoncheva, the soprano found her own best showcase in the petenera ‘Tres horas antes del día’ from La marchenera, where she revealed a variety of timbres, from warm verismo lyricism to flamenco’s deep roulades. This is a great piece by Moreno Torroba which, in the hands of such an interpreter, reveals that it has nothing to fear from anything in the best-known operatic repertoire. Undoubtedly repeating this romanza was her best option for the encore, as she herself said, to sum up the whole concert.
Miquel Ortega’s baton drilled the orchestra with clarity, marking the rhythmic changes to mirror the soprano. It was obvious that he had assisted her greatly in exploring zarzuela’s many beauties. It was not so hard for the Orquesta titular del Teatro de la Zarzuela, so totally familiar with the genre. In addition, amongst the orchestral fragments we were offered little-known pieces of great interest, such as the fandango from Sorozábal’s Los burladores and the prelude from Los borrachos by Giménez. Evidently this was not an improvised concert, designed for easy display, but well thought out and rehearsed. The brilliant final touch was to see Yoncheva relishing Cecilia Valdés’s ‘entrada’, dancing and bringing out all its surprising tropical grace. We have seen many of the highlights that she sang performed on this same stage, and could not stop musing what it would be like to see her in the lively Madrid street of La del manojo de rosas (singing the dúo del taller with Carlos Álvarez), in the exquisite production of El juramento, or among the cornfields of Cecilia Valdés.
Nobody doubts that zarzuela is without question just one among the world’s lyric genres, but there are many reasons why it is difficult to place its value outside a Spanish framework. In the case of foreign interpreters, the first and foremost difficulty is the language, which is not part of the canon of lyric theatre, as usually experienced – in addition to the usual Italian, German and French, we hear it from time to time in Russian, English or Czech, but almost never in Spanish. Spain’s theatres such as the Real and the Liceo (Liceu) exacerbate this situation with their neglect of the national product: Teatro de la Zarzuela fulfils the task that many other institutions should follow. To be frank, it is surprising that in upcoming concerts by the Bulgarian soprano (such as those scheduled for Valencia or Bilbao) similar projects are not being seen. We are sure that the singer will want to repeat the experiment, and we must offer her new possibilities. Why should she not record a zarzuela album? The success of this concert leaves no room to doubt, that it would not be just another recording. The heart of zarzuela – the crazy beauty of its music – has captured Sonya Yoncheva, and through her beautiful voice, the world’s lyric repertoire.
© Víctor Sánchez Sánchez and zarzuela.net, 2021