“dictated by PR and economics
Our sympathies must go to Paolo Pinamonti, tasked with the idea of putting together a coherent 2013-14 season at Teatro de la Zarzuela. He must carry forward a history of over 150 years history of musico-theatrical innovation, while simultaneously satisfying a loyal, older public which “knows what it wants”, trying to attract new audiences, and interesting schoolchildren in the genre itself and the work of the building. All this at a time and place when there is no money to spend on the arts, or anything else. Truly he is not to be envied.
To what extent have he and his planning team succeeded in squaring the circles? Looking first at the main meat, most people will be delighted to see a new Curro Vargas promised (Feb-Mar 2014) to be staged by the globetrotting English director Graham Vick. Chapí’s three-act epic has been too long absent, and following the innovative production of Viento es la dicha de Amor we’ll have another intriguing Baroque confection drawn from the tonos of Juan Hidalgo and his contemporaries, under the title De lo humano … y lo divino [Anatomía de las pasiones] (May 2014), with the Capilla de Música Santa María under musical director Carlos Mena. For nostalgic purposes – and box office bliss! – there is the umpteenth revival of Emilio Sagi’s rather tired 1990 production of La del manojo de rosas (December 2013-January 2014).
That’s it for single, integrated shows. The remainder of the staged programme consists of two particularly silly examples of double bills. Now double bills are a great thing, and highly appropriate for a genre many of whose greatest riches are of short, género chico dimensions. But double bills have to make sense, and neither of these do. To stick La verbena de la Paloma with Falla’s Los amores de la Inés has antiquarian interest only – if it weren’t for the name on the cover nobody would bother to stage such a musically and dramatically faceless squib as this great composer’s least convincing juvenilia. It’s pure snobbery to spend money on this whilst being blind to the many short Bretón zarzuelas which most people who love his masterpiece La verbena… would die to see. The excellent director José Carlos Plaza will have his work cut out with Falla’s nullity, though at least it is very short.
Then, taking a deep breath, we come to the most unnatural act of coupling I’ve ever come across in the theatre (rivalled only by ENO’s sometime attempt to weld Gianni Schicchi to Bluebeard’s Castle) – a truncated version of Sorozábal’s Black el payaso with Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci (April 2014). [please note TdlZ: the title is not I pagliacci, as Sr. Pinamonti of all people ought to know] Two clowns? No, three: because one has to include the clown who came up with such a monumentally stupid concept. Somebody evidently left their brains at home when it came to the planning meeting. Pagliacci will be sung in Italian, by a Spanish cast, which adds insult to injury. Why sing in a language nobody in Madrid understands? Is this an attempt to drag in the tourists? It will certainly have Barbieri - who founded this very theatre to wean Madrid off cheap Italian opera - rolling furiously in his grave.
Artistically, there is absolutely nothing to link these two pieces, beyond the trivial fact that Black cries out “ridi, pagliacco!” towards the end of Anguita’s tart operetta-satire. When there are so many short Sorozábal works (including one, La guitarra de Figaro, with a ‘varieties’ setting) it is perverse to shove a cut version of one of his major works on in tandem with a superannuated Italian warhorse. Aesthetically, they cancel one another out. Who wants it? Well, director Ignacio García has ‘form’. His attempt to link the Gaztambide and Barbieri works in his last doble assignment here was nearly disastrous, and I can only give him a gypsy’s warning not to attempt the same trick here. This has to be the most aberrant programming I have ever seen from a major opera theatre. “Ridi, pagliacco” by all means – there’s nothing else to do faced with such nonsense.
I’ve saved the best until last: these desperate dobles are redeemed by the inclusion, in concert only but at least in multiple performances, of three important 19th century revivals: Gaztambide’s Catalina, Arrieta’s El dominó azul and Barbieri’s El Diablo en el poder (June 2014). All will be conducted by José María Moreno. Whether with dialogue or not, is not clear. But thank you for this, Sr. Pinamonti. This is what Teatro de la Zarzuela should be about, not – with respect – purveying hackneyed old Italian schlock which you can see any day of the week in second-rate opera theatres all over the world.
There’s the usual selection of dance evenings, concerts, solo recitals and special events of which several are pleasant in prospect. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is once again programmed to present La tempranica in concert, with María José Montiel and Carlos Bergasa (21/22 September 2013). There is another of those marvellous Christmas concerts (Concierto de Navidad, 23 December 2013). And the two zarzuelas para niños at Universidad Carlos III are as interesting as anything in the main programme. These are Arriaga’s charming juvenilia La princesa árabe (January 2014) and Valverde hijo’s El paraíso de los niños, the ‘fantasy children’s zarzuela’ in one act to a text by Delgado and Arniches (April 2014).
In sum, there’s plenty to look forward to, despite a thin main-stage programme with no sense of overall coherence and some very questionable choices (notably the Falla and Leoncavallo components) which seem dictated by PR and economics rather than aesthetic compulsion. Teatro de la Zarzuela’s 2013-14 season looks too much like a ‘committee job’ put together to satisfy Peter and Paul (or rather, Pedro y Paolo) and too little like one man’s imaginative vision. Given the times, perhaps that is inevitable. But once again, there is a feeling of disappointment that Teatro de la Zarzuela is failing to live up to the innovative ideals of its great founders, but rather choosing to trail along in the wake of the best modern, operatic theatre of our time.
© Christopher Webber, 20/V/2013