The Spanish conductor Miguel Roa has died today in Illescas, aged 71. One of the most influential modern maestros, Roa’s warmly communicative style worked equally well in opera and ballet, but it is as a zarzuela conductor that he will always be remembered.
Having made his debut with Rigoletto in 1964 (at Madrid’s Teatro Eslava), Miguel Roa’s first zarzuela production was La del manojo de rosas at Teatro Calderón the following year. He initiated an international career seven years later at Chicago Lyric Opera, then in 1974 he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Spanish National Chorus, in which capacity he acted as chorus master for many significant zarzuela recordings of the period. In 1978 he became Music Director at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela, which post he held for many years, during which time he significant raised orchestral and choral standards. A highlight of his work there was the oft-revived production of Torroba’s La chulapona, which met with ecstatic acclaim when Roa brought it to the 1989 Edinburgh Festival.
Although he retained his Madrid post, from the mid-1990’s Roa increasingly spread his wings in the wider world, conducting in Paris (Ópera Comique and the Bastille), Italy (Rome and La Scala), London (Covent Garden) and across the Atlantic in Los Angeles, Washington, Buenos Aires (Teatro Colón) and elsewhere. He forged a special bond with Plácido Domingo, conducting his zarzuela galas worldwide. Those included a memorable Barbican concert in 1999, in addition to Emilio Sagi’s ‘operatic’ Washington staging of Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda which toured Europe and Japan with Domingo in the leading baritone role.
Roa was something of a record collector himself, whose own recorded legacy includes complete sets of Penella’s El gato montés, Vives’s Doña Francisquita, Chapí’s La revoltosa and a benchmark recording of Chueca’s La gran vía (all with Domingo), plus Rodrigo’s El hijo fingído for EMI and several highly distinguished Spanish orchestral and choral discs for Naxos.
He was an avid follower of zarzuela.net in our first decade, and in 2006 kindly agreed to meet with Pedro Gómez Manzanares for a revealing interview. His sensitivity to singers’ needs, inspiring orchestral leadership and wry, madrileño sense of humour will be much missed by aficionados around the world.
© Christopher Webber 2016