El Maestro de baile
One of musical Madrids 2003 highlights was a concert wholly devoted to tonadilla escénica, 18th Century Spains vernacular equivalent to the Italian intermezzo miniature comic operas designed as light relief between the acts of the opera seria, of which the best-known examples are Pergolesis La Serva Padrona and Cimarosas El Maestro di Capella. The Spanish form produced some equally delightful skits, many from the hands of the five specialist composers represented here. Though the tonadilla escénica dropped out of fashion in the early decades of the 19th Century, it was not forgotten by Barbieri and the later creators of zarzuela grande, which developed both matter and structures from the older form. The later género chico also took much from the brevity and compression of the tonadilla tradition.
Tonadillas escénicas were fast-paced, unpretentious urban entertainments, often satirising current social fashions as well as the theatre and politics of the day. As Begoña Lolo says in her introductory essay, Their interest is thus not only artistic or musicological, but has a bearing on the study of social history, in that they faithfully reflect the social reality of their time. They range from solo pieces such as El vizcaíno and the colourful Ya sale mi guitarra through to the more sophisticated dúo-tonadillas of Blas de Laserna and Pablo del Moral. As in the romantic zarzuela, dance forms were key to musical structure. Characters from higher social classes sang and danced to French-style minuets, passepieds and contredanses, whilst the majas and majos had fandangos, jotas and pre-eminently seguidillas. Later examples were enriched by the New World tango and zorongo. Dancing itself, as a pretext for sexual hanky-panky, often provided the subject matter, and Misons El maestro de baile presents a specially amusing glimpse of this social function in operation.
Gabriel Garrido took a handful of the best tonadillas escénicas, and dusted them down - some were staged (by Grover Wilkins and his Madrid Baroco) in conjunction with a stimulating exhibition at Madrids Museo de San Isidro devoted to the capitals 18th century theatrical culture. This short CD is a memento of that event, but anyone familiar with, say, Chapís Música clásica will quickly feel at home in the world of tonadilla. The plots are at best slight, but the texts (provided in Spanish and French only) are witty and alive. The music comes across as a rococo staging post between the more demotic elements of baroque zarzuela and the full-blown populism of género chico. Garrido and his performers certainly attack it with gusto, never forgetting that these are popular stage pieces rather than exquisite musical miniatures. The orchestrations are ear-catching, the tunes catchy, and with the longest of these pieces coming in at under 13 minutes, nothing outstays its welcome.
Without dance and staging to feast the eye, all thats missing to the ear is the star-quality of the performers for whom these five pieces were originally written. Sopranos Cecilia Lavilla Berganza (shades of her mother Teresa in the lower register) and Olga Pitarch are brightly personable and well up to the technical demands of Pablo del Morals battle between rival sopranos , though tenor Salvador Parron lacks the verbal imagination and tonal range to provide more than a generalised sense of comedy in the virtuoso solo El vizcaíno. No matter. K617s recording is demonstration quality, Garridos energy is infectious, and his sampler of tonadillas escénicas provides a precious window on the missing link between baroque and romantic zarzuela.
© Christopher Webber, 2004