In 2023 we commemorate the centenary of Tomás Bretón’s death, and Teatro de la Zarzuela’s way of honouring the composer of La verbena de la Paloma has been, yet again, to root out one of his ‘óperas nacionales’! In my review of the concert version of Tabaré (‘whose name I don’t want to recall’), I asked when we might encounter another sparkling and theatrical Bretón piece, to form a worthy pendant to Ricardo de la Vega’s sainete. Not this time. In fact, in its tireless race to become the B Company for opera in Madrid, Teatro de la Zarzuela continues to nod towards the Plaza de Oriente, this time buying Miguel Ángel Berna’s choreography from José Carlos Plaza’s 2004 Teatro Real production of La Dolores.
After her memorable productions of Las bribonas/La revoltosa and La del Soto del Parral, I am baffled why stage director Amelia Ochandiano has come up with this eclectic and conventional Dolores. In her programme note, she states that this opera is ‘a story that we wanted to set in the 1950s but which is still happening now, all the time’. If this is so, why move it to the 1950s, why not to 2023 and present something truly radical? What was so problematic about the 1835 original? Unanswered questions...
The worst thing to witness during the evening is a parade of elements where, as soon as one begins to shine, it is contradicted by the next. That happens with the combination of the comedy, the grandiloquent acting, with the lack of integration of dance (the end of the first act becomes a ‘Grand Spectacular Aragon Revue’) and – of course – with the blurred characterisation of the protagonists. Nobody engages us, and we don’t know whether Dolores is a victim or an executioner, even of herself. Certain moments, frankly, made me blush – for instance, the circus choreography of the imposing third act prelude.
We expected much more from this Dolores, returning to the theatre where she was born in 1895. The déja vu of the Real’s ‘Jota’ was truly painful, and it is not clear whether this was an exercise in arrogance (thinking that nobody would remember 2004) or simple laziness. Of course, the aesthetic unity of Plaza’s production was light years away from Ochandiano’s reading, whose set design by Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda is quite honestly reminiscent of a brick factory. Nor do Jesús Ruiz’s costumes, so reminiscent of those he designed for Entre Sevilla y Triana, help brighten the view.
But the most painful part of this disjointed Dolores came from the pit. Guillermo García Calvo has once again surrendered to an out-of-control Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid from which it seems impossible to extract nuances or a balanced blend. Each musician was on his own (something evident from the solos) with the exception of certain better-rehearsed passages, such as the two preludes. Something very odd happened with the seven-piece, rather consumptive rondalla, necessarily amplified, which during the ‘Pasacalle’ – probably due to faulty amplification – came in out of tempo. In his eagerness to prune the score, ‘Guillermo Scissorhands’ deleted at least eight bars of the unforgettable pizzicato which introduces the improvisation of Melchor’s copla, ‘Si vas a Calatayud...’, destroying one of the libretto’s most important dramaturgical moments. As with the offstage orchestras in Pan y toros, García Calvo also suppressed the onstage band at the end of Act 2, depriving the audience of the intertextual interplay with Carmen’s finale.
Fortunately, among the performers were some passionate musicians who managed to fight against pit and stage, drawing some applause from the audience. I refer, above all, to soprano Saioa Hernández, who in her third act romanza was able to relax and give the best of herself. At her side shone two, ever-accomplished character actors – Gerardo Bullón as Patricio and Rubén Amoretti as Rojas. There was a good Melchor from José Antonio López, a baritone with a good singing line and stage presence. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Jorge de León as Lázaro, who sang his very beautiful part without deviating from forte, in a hectoring tenor without a hint of fantasy or innocence.
© Miccone and zarzuela.net, 2023