Sometimes we might feel guilty for devoting so many pages of the website to Ópera Cómica de Madrid, because at first glance it might appear that our interests have so much in common with theirs that, therefore, our impartiality about their work might be in question. And in some ways we must acknowledge that this is so: they support a model of “exploitation” of the genre which combines a legitimate profitable living for the company (sometimes compromised by the high risk of their ventures) with respect for the original creators and current audience, through performances and productions rigorously prepared and properly presented. They add to this an invaluable restlessness and curiosity to explore the country beyond the established repertoire, which by the path we’ve seen the company take is a large field indeed.
One of Ó.C.M’s intelligent policies is the exploration of unknown works by degrees. A first step may be programming a promising work in concert, with singers and piano accompaniment. If the music is well received by the public, and if the dramatic possibilities of the libretto allow, it will then be staged. This has already happened with works such as El conjuro and El dominó azul (both by Arrieta), Buenas noches señor Don Simón (Oudrid), El relámpago (Barbieri); and the zarzuela we now focus on – La gallina ciega, heard in concert during 2006 [see Enrique Mejías García’s review] in the same space that has now hosted the version staged with the assistance of Ensamble de Madrid, which provided the piano sextet accompaniment.
All the important musical aspects of this succulent 1873 score have been noted by my fellow critic in his enthusiastic review, and I refer the reader to his authoritative opinion. Coming to the libretto, which he doesn’t address, I will add that it is the first example of the successful collaboration that the Murcian composer maintained with Miguel Ramos Carrión throughout his career, being on the borderline between a comic skit with music (along Barbieri lines) and a zarzuela grande with a spirit closer to the bufo style. I’d emphasize the freshness of the dialogue and the author’s skilful ability to maintain the plot’s intrigue. But what I most want to make clear is the excellence of the production, modest in size but careful in detail (refinement of costume and settings worked up to quite a subtle staging), which showed that prudent conservatism always to be welcomed for the first production on an unfamiliar work.
As to the interpretation by the singer-actors, we should start by noting that the casting – not only for this show but also for the cycle of concerts dedicated to Chapí held in this auditorium (formerly the Guardia Corps barracks) throughout 2009 – features an extensive hearing for young voices, amounting to Ó.C.M’s “zarzuela workshop” initiative, enabling many young singers to make their stage or concert debut. We can only applaud their commitment to renewing and expanding the pool of singers who specialize in zarzuela.
The selected singers were almost without exception suitable for their duties. I’d single out the sympathetic expressivity of tenor Miguel Ángel Lobato, who undeniably showed the theatrical quality of a bufo singer; the noble sense of line supported by natural dramatic disposition of baritone Airam de Acosta; and the elegance, technical security and verbal imagination of the feminine protagonist, soprano Carolina Moncada. The fourth member of the vocal quartet (requiring a bass-baritone) found a discreet interpreter in Gerardo Bullón, more at the service of the histrionics imposed by director Francisco Matilla on the bufo character of the role, and because his voice is more of a lyric baritone. Iria Rajal was adequate in his limited theatrical and musical appearances.
Ensamble de Madrid, for its part, has made something of a speciality of zarzuela selections (as witness a substantial series of discs covering their repertoire which they are bringing to market.) They managed to win over my initial reservations about not offering the work with its original orchestral accompaniment. Whilst we cannot enjoy the colours of the original score, the Ensemble's committed performance and unanimity put the music in extraordinary relief, making this the best of many interpretations to come from the group. Fernando Poblete, finally appearing in his true role as musical director, was able to inspire his colleagues from the miniature pit to encourage and support the singers with warm sound and sensitive phrasing.
The hope is that Ó.C.M’s current dominance of our website will inspire other companies, theatres and festivals – subsidised and private – to compete with it for taking the leading role in the task of nurturing the zarzuela … but we are where we are; and if it seems like this company is the “apple of our eye” for taking on this exciting and demanding task, then we will not hesitate to praise any other company entering the lists!
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2009
17 March 2009