talks to
Ignacio Jassa Haro

(Madrid 16th September 2003)

José Antonio Campos, Photograph: Courtesy Teatro de la Zarzuela
José Antonio Campos

José Antonio Campos is the new public head of the Teatro de la Zarzuela. Only three months ago he took over at the helm of the flagship of Spanish lyric theatre, since when he has sent out a clear message in all his public pronouncements: the theatre of which he is director will build its repertoire around the genre that gave it its name, without ruling out productions of other, complementary styles of musical theatre.

He gave me his full attention, in a substantial interview during which he described the key policies of the work he is undertaking. Campos is not an effusive man. Throughout the interview he maintains a quietly serious tone, carefully measuring his words in order to discuss his plans with the greatest objectivity; at no time did he try to "hurry the sale".

Once the hour-long interview was over, we had an animated debate about the future of the theatre, from which - without reporting any of our private conversation - I can affirm that Campos is a man with clear ideas, and from whom we can expect a period of energised management. Nevertheless his room for manoeuvre is narrowed by many circumstances: the multiple functions of the theatre (for example, it hosts the two national dance companies and is the preferred venue for Madrid's Autumn Festival); spatial logistics (it cannot house more than one production in its backstage area); labour questions (the chorus and stage staff have trade agreements that condition the length of the season); or its programming regime (the fact that it mounts works for continuous runs of more of a month, instead of the six or seven in the average repertoire of most opera houses). And over everything is the sad budgetary reality: the Teatro receives a fifth part of the money which enables its great city "rival", the Teatro Real, to function. You recently took over the direction of the theatre of which you had previously been in charge between 1984 and 1990. Which lies behind the decision of INAEM [Instituto Nacional de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música, part of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport - ed.] to reappoint you as Director of the Teatro de la Zarzuela?
J.A.Campos: The people in charge of INAEM are the ones to ask about that. For myself, the only thing I can say is that it gives me enormous satisfaction to return to the house where I spent six seasons, at the time when during the renovation of the Teatro Real, the theatre provided Madrid's opera season as well as zarzuela. Now the situation is changed, the Teatro Real is up and running and fulfilling its role very well. This theatre is now fundamentally dedicated to zarzuela, without excluding the possibility that as a musical theatre it is open to other genres suitable to its programming needs. You recently presented the 2003-4 season to the media. You defined it in the press conference as "transitional". Can you explain in what sense the season will be transitional in the life of this theatre?
J.A.Campos: As I said at the press conference, a theatre with as important an historical and cultural weight as this, is more than the person who directs it: it has own momentum, an inheritance of many people and events. When I joined the theatre at the beginning of June, my predecessor had made some plans for this season that I have thought about and incorporated in the programming for the most part; although I also made some changes mainly focussing on providing a stronger presence for our resident forces, and to take note of the public demand on which our theatre's approach to zarzuela is based. Concerning the programming policy that you are going to follow, what definite information can you provide about forthcoming seasons?
J.A.Campos: As far as zarzuela is concerned there will be at least four productions (some of them will be double bills), so that zarzuela will account for 75% of the theatre's programming. At the same time we have to consider that this theatre is host to the two national dance companies (Ballet Nacional de España and Compañía Nacional de Danza) and I intend to give them an ampler programming allowance; when they come they will be given at least three weeks. Then we are going to provide the 10th series of an experience that has become an integral part of Madrid's musical life - the Lieder Cycle that we mount in collaboration with Caja de Madrid. This event has already seen many singers of the front rank pass through our theatre. In addition we are going to continue collaborating with Comunidad de Madrid on the Autumn Festival, which does not take up many 'slots'. But we will not merely provide a receiving house for any theatrical spectacle; we will negotiate to receive productions whose importance deserves a place in this theatre. Another initiative we want to continue is the "Concert-Cinema" whereby certain films are shown with suitable live sound tracks from commissioned composers. What percentage of productions will be revivals compared with new productions?
J.A.Campos: Revivals are very important in a theatre that relies on maintaining a repertoire. The zarzuela genre is very large, the theatre's tradition throughout its history has been to incorporate new productions, and revivals must have a place so that the public can make contact with those familiar pieces that everybody knows. But the theatre must also present lesser-known pieces, or to bring in new productions of pieces that have been regularly seen. This year there will be three revivals whilst the double-bill [of Serrano género chico sainetes - ed.] will be a new production; but the following season my intention is that that ratio will be reversed; perhaps we will have one revival and present three new productions. In your recent interview with Ópera Actual magazine you said that this theatre is not experimental; can you clarify what you meant?
J.A.Campos: I want it to be understood that, yes, we will have experimentation, but not across the board. When we consider extending the repertoire we are speaking not only of well-known works which have not been seen for a long time, but also of works whose musical merit is of the front rank and which deserve revival because they are of historical importance enough to interest the musicologists. That gamble is therefore worth taking. We must contribute to forward-looking investigation; and when the ICCMU undertakes its marvellous work in restoring these pieces, it meets with our full enthusiasm. But there is an additional factor that is strictly theatrical: theatre is about production and this stage, as the only theatre "of the Zarzuela" must be a reference point in what it does; when we make a decision regarding a particular work we have in front of us a series of values that are not only musicological but have to do with the interest of the work and its possibility of connecting with today's audience, so that production does not end up becoming a musicological caprice that costs a fortune but which the public does not want. Thus revival relies on two factors: if a work is little known should it form part of the basic repertoire of zarzuela - that is already very large - or it has it gone for years without being seen, thus demanding to return to this theatre and giving us an obligation to programme it. But do there not seem to be very few productions for a theatre with a permanent staff that is open almost all the year.
J.A.Campos: There do not seem to me few productions. Consider that each production runs for a month (so four productions take up four months), add to that the time given over to the dance companies, the concerts, the Lieder Cycle, the possibility of producing some opera and we have completed the musical year.

La del manojo de rosas - Teatro de la Zarzuela

The production system of a theatre as this one monopolizes all the time. In addition we cannot put the works into the repertoire for just one week. In fact from the ticket office data there are works that could be kept in the repertoire for months. If this was a commercial theatre and I mounted The Girl with the Roses we could run it a whole year just like the theatres which mount musicals. But my obligation is to mount the greatest number of works and to do it with the greatest artistic exigency. What is the relationship between the Teatro Real and the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and of a possible incorporation within the Fundación del Teatro Lírico?
J.A.Campos: They are complementary theatres; one theatre must take notice of the other, and both must take care of music theatre in the broadest sense. It seems good to me that the Teatro Real will occasionally welcome zarzuela, and that we do the same thing for opera. We have to develop formulas for working together, such as singers' workshops, something which we all know is much needed; also the existence in the none too distant future of simultaneous productions of certain titles (operas and/or zarzuelas) with a common theme. The question of the Fundación is a secondary one. For me the important thing is that both theatres have an artistic understanding. They have a different legal mandate. The Real is autonomous whereas the technical staff and chorus of the Zarzuela are paid by the Ministry of Culture, and to combine both packages in a common policy would demand an enormous reorganisation that would create major problems. The two following questions are of special interest to our international readers. In the first place, can you clarify how the Teatro de la Zarzuela is financed?
J.A.Campos: Exclusively with funds from the Ministry of Culture, since it is a national theatre, added to the income that the theatre itself generates - without forgetting some collaborations that take place by means of other agreements; for example an agreement began last year with the City Council of Madrid, that has been renewed this year and which puts a small injection of money into the theatre. How does the Teatro de la Zarzuela consider promoting itself internationally? Could it be at some time an ambassador for zarzuela?
J.A.Campos: We hope to attract the largest possible number of foreign visitors, to this unique place, our theatre. We would like to follow up by exporting our productions but that is complicated and very expensive. International tours by the theatre would necessitate the use of local choruses and orchestras, and on our part the contribution of artistic personnel and our productions. That would cost a great deal of money, and if somebody will pay for it I would very like much us to become ambassadors for zarzuela.

But there is an intermediate course that has an enormous importance, to export our productions within the State itself. We had already developed a certain tradition of collaboration with the Seville's Teatro de la Maestranza, which was interrupted for a few years but has now been resumed. Oviedo's Teatro Campoamor on the other hand already mounts one season of zarzuela by its own efforts, in addition to one of opera, but it thought that it would attain a higher level and be more interesting with our input; last year we provided it with five complete productions, a situation which will be repeated this year. The Mayor of Oviedo has already expressed an interest in regularising this pattern through a four year agreement. In a sort of way the Campoamor could be turned into a second stage for the Teatro de la Zarzuela. And could co-productions be a cheaper alternative to touring?
J.A.Campos: If there is a theatre that is open to it I am delighted, and I have no problem in looking at the idea. A path that we have not trodden for a long time, and which is very much bound up with the nature of this theatre, is the world of operetta, above all the Viennese style. That genre could awaken the interest of other theatres for co-production with us. Besides being able to listen to them on the radio, when we will be able to see the theatre's stage productions on public television?
J.A.Campos: When public television is disposed to pay for it. Our mission is to produce and promote stage spectacles. Television and the new multimedia formats in today's marketplace contribute to the wider exposure of zarzuela, so that you can taken one home on DVD; that is something that our time has imposed, and it seems to me more so than is necessary. But those are additional costs, apart from the production costs of the theatre. Children and teenagers sometimes fill the Teatro de la Zarzuela, either with their schoolfriends and teachers or with their families (a new initiative this year). What importance does the theatre give to this young audience?
J.A.Campos: Although this theatre is always full zarzuela is labelled as nostalgic. Our duty is to awaken young people's interest, because if we don't get it, in a little while our audience will be lost to us. What we offer has plenty of interest: it is pure musical theatre and what's more usually comedic. We must make the young audience see that La verbena de la Paloma is very much better than most 20th century musical comedies, and the same can be said of Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, which is musical theatre of today, for today. Our challenge is to attract new audiences. The 150th Anniversary of the foundation of the Teatro de la Zarzuela is nearly upon us. How is it proposed to commemorate such an important event in a theatre's life?
J.A.Campos: The 150th Anniversary Season is one for which we are preparing seriously, and in which we will go for new productions with plenty of variety, with a presence of contemporary opera, which specially interests me. I reviewed the inaugural 1856 season, and it did not seem feasible to reproduce that experience. It is necessary to celebrate it in a modern way. We will revive some important work, and will commission some musical theatre (opera or zarzuela) that will set the seal on this 150th anniversary, and which has to do with Madrid. What is your opinion about the current state of Spanish lyric theatre in general, and zarzuela in particular?
J.A.Campos: In the last years a Renaissance has taken place in lyric theatre. There are more performance centres, better and better equipped. The change is huge if you look back; fifteen years ago the lyric theatre in Spain had very few outlets. But I must make a criticism of this positive analysis, that goes beyond penny-in-the-slot complacency. The lyric theatre in general cannot be imprisoned by the repertoire. When La Traviata was premiered in Venice it was a failure because it was a slice of contemporary life that scandalized the public; it was theatre of its time. It is in the interest to lyric theatre to make a thorough revision of the repertoire, rescuing everything that has to do with the human problems of today. The repertoire has many stories that no longer interest us, and which are musically unnecessary too; custom has dictated many revivals in the theatres with very high costs. We are too stuck in the 19th Century, and no doubt have not looked closely enough at the 20th, so important in terms of artistic creation. The lyric theatre, therefore, must not be a museum and has the duty to connect with today's audience, revisiting universal myths, updating them, revising them and making them relevant to people of today. It is necessary to take advantage of this current resurgence of the lyric stage to reflect a little on what has gone into the making of society today, and of where it is heading, on the problems of this society, and of the audience we are addressing.

The Spanish zarzuela is no exception. That great invention we call género chico, in essence grew up as a commercial enterprise since people stopped going to zarzuela because they became bored with historical or rural stories, and because what was happening on the street was quite another thing, fashioned from shorter stories, born out of the sainete and leading in addition to a most important social change by allowing the middle and working classes into the theatre. The conflicts that they dramatise have to do with what happens in the street. La verbena de la Paloma, the classic example, no longer talks of myths, princess or fairies but gives us a street conflict that connects directly with reality.

Doña Francisquita - Photo © Jesús Alcántara, courtesy Teatro de la Zarzuela
Doña Francisquita - Teatro de la Zarzuela I am going to ask you for a moment to forget that you are Director of this House and to speaks only for José Antonio Campos. Give me a handful of works from which you would compose your ideal season of zarzuela, although I believe I already know one title you are not going to exclude.
J.A.Campos: In fact La verbena de la Paloma will always be there, because it is the masterpiece of the género chico in the same sense that Doña Francisquita represents zarzuela grande. They are two fundamental works and we must always support them. I think the same of La revoltosa and El dúo de "La Africana". But La verbena de la Paloma is a masterpiece, and I will mount it when we have the right artistic means to make it a piece for today; that does not mean that we should blow it apart and make it nothing like the popular theatre that it is, because what is good is good, and it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. It is a great work, as important as La vida es sueño and other classic dramas. Lastly I ask you to evaluate the international interest evoked by zarzuela, one proof of which is the forum through which this interview will be published.
J.A.Campos: We can say with certainly that it is great, because there is plenty of demand for it from people outside Spain, not only from Spanish-speakers, but from many and various places around the world. Nevertheless zarzuela still not sufficiently well-known. Without being triumphalist zarzuela is far better than Viennese operetta, much more substantial and varied, and also better than French operetta. It is musical theatre of the highest quality. Our duty is to demonstrate that, and to present it as we believe that we ought.

© Ignacio Jassa Haro & Christopher Webber (trans.) 2003

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