An affair of the heart…
Sagi nights at the Teatro de la Zarzuela are always a joy; fluid,
graceful games, plotted and choreographed – usually, as here, by Nuria
Castejón – with witty precision and vivacity. Sometimes style
consumes substance, and when the Act 1 curtain rises on a white box filled with
white chairs and prancing valets there’s a momentary sense that
we’ve been here before. Not a bit of it. Emilio Sagi has a love
affair with La generala. This is his second production in five years
(the first was for Vienna) and its impeccable elegance doesn’t disguise
the fact that after all, this is an affair of the heart.
The triumph of this show – and it’s
nothing less – is to maintain a perfect balance between the lightness of
Vives’s score, with its British seasonings and operetta frivolities, and
those rare moments of deeply romantic feeling, red roses in a crystal epergne.
And what roses we’re offered! On CD it’s hard to appreciate all
their beauties. How subtly the Act 1 dúo between Prince
Pío and Berta is structured, for instance, and how delicately Vives
evokes the Paris music hall memories by backing his famous tune with the ghost
of an oompah bass. Such imaginative touches abound in a score which gets even
stronger as it goes along. The final dúo, where the Prince
succumbs to his dynastic fate and marriage with Olga, might so easily have made
a clockwork conclusion to Perrín and Palacios’s lightweight plot,
but Vives produces a masterpiece of growing romantic feeling, both plausible
and touching, crowned by what’s possibly the best tune in a zarzuela
which is full of them.
Act 2, with its fully
operational carousel, bosky woods and carnival trimmings, is a Fragonard
nocturne, romance and humour neatly entwined. That Daniel Bianco’s
setting doesn’t swamp the performers says something about Sagi’s
focussed direction, which only falters in the brief comedy trio for the Kings
and Berta (one carousel ride too many), and more about those performers
themselves. Ismael Jordi has everything for Prince Pío.
He’s tall, dark and handsome, and in full possession of a piquant, light
lyric tenor to match his looks. Has Pío’s salida been
better sung since Kraus and Vendrell? If anything Sabina
Puértolas is even more exciting. Her confident, sensually explicit
Berta is sung with a crushed-velvet beauty and personal phrasing which fully
explains La generala’s magnetism to all around, of either sex.
Puértolas has a great future ahead of her. Sonia de Munck’s
precise, light-lyric Olga is fully able to hold its own, and her
characterisation of the bespectacled anime-schoolgirl Princess is
touchingly compounded of innocence, petulance and jejune
With good support from Enrique Baquerizo as a gangly and laid-back King Cirilo, his basso profundo much more at home here than in the baritone roles he’s been singing lately, and from David Rubiera’s unusually young and potentially dangerous Tocateca, this was a near-perfect evening. If the chorus sounded thinner and less confident than it should, some of that is excused by Sagi’s balletic demands and the composer’s call for sub-divisions into maids, valets, lords, ladies … and a full platoon of Scotch Highlanders, kilts, sporrans and all. There was less excuse for some less than unanimous co-ordination between stage and pit, though the instrumental playing itself was fine enough to bring out all the fragrances of Vives’s musical bouquet. La generala goes on to the Théâtre du Chatelet, giving Parisians the chance to enjoy this most delightful of zarzuelas in a production fully worthy of its charms. They should seize it with both hands.
© Christopher Webber 2008
Cast: Berta de Tocateca (La generala) - Sabina Puértolas/Carmen González; Príncipe Pío - Ismael Jordi/Enrique Ferrer; Princesa Olga - Sonia de Munck/Beatriz Díaz; Reina Eva - María José Suárez/Itxaro Mentxaka; Cirilo II - Enrique Baquerizo/Luis Álvarez; Clodomiro V - Miguel López Galindo; Duque de Sisa - José Luis Gago; General Tocateca - David Rubiera; Dagoberto - Enrique Viana; Guanajato - Richard Collins-Moore; El Coronel - Paco Navarro; El Capitán - Alberto Ríos; Ana - Ana Santamarina; Isabel - Ángeles Barragán; María - Paloma Curros; Natalia - Ana María Ramos; Laura - Paloma Suárez; Jorge - Joaquín Córdoba; Carlos - Enrique Bustos; Sirvienta - Amalia Barrio; Emilio Sagi (d.); Daniel Bianco (design); Jesús Ruiz (costumes); Eduardo Bravo (lighting); Nuria Castejón (choreography); Orquesta de la Comunidad De Madrid; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (d. Antonio Fauró); José Fabra (c.)
19 March 2008