I met and talked with multifaceted personality Emilio Carretero, "artist-scholar" of the zarzuela, on 6th February 2001. Born in Fuente de Cantos, in the province of Badajoz - the same place as our great painter Zurbarán - Carretero moved to Madrid aged seventeen and began playing minor supporting roles in the Español, María Guerrero and Marquina Theatres. One day soon after he had the opportunity of seeing Bohemios and Alma de Dios played at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and it was "love at first sight".
He was introduced to the entrepreneur José de Luna, who - impressed by his strong, youthful enthusiasm - contracted him swiftly. Later he studied at the Madrid Conservatory, supplementing his training with classes in dance and speech, then gaining admission to the Chorus of what was to be his artistic home, the Teatro de la Zarzuela. Since then his activities have included recordings, performances inside and outside the Theatre, provincial tours and visits abroad - he especially recalls performances in Japan - as well as presenting zarzuela program for a well-known radio network, and giving lectures (personally I attended "Woman and the Teatro de la Zarzuela" at the Ateneo de Madrid.) He is now looking forward to the publication of his book, written some time ago, entitled The History of the Teatro de la Zarzuela from 1856 until the Present Day.
He received me in his home, working on the revision of this great tome that will be his first book, two large typewritten volumes with countless photos. He confided that he is going to acquire a computer to facilitate his work. His house is a miniature museum devoted to his life past and present, the Spanish musical theatre. LP's, CD'S, books, video recordings ... but what impress more are his voluminous collection of newspaper clippings, and a priceless collection of photographs. Many of these are of singers, as many from the 19th as from the 20th Century, some of which have appeared recently in a volume edited by Emilio Casares, the Graphic History of the Zarzuela [editor's note: available only to members of the Fundación de la Zarzuela].
Emilio, why did you decide to study and write on the history of the Teatro de La Zarzuela?
Because it is and has been my home, where I have played out a large part of my life. It was very hard to obtain the information, as unfortunately no historical archive existed in the theatre - mainly due to the fact that many entrepreneurs have worked there and none of them had thought to create and maintain such a desirable archive; only since the Ministry has taken charge of the Theatre have documents been conserved. Before that period, I have had to do some hard and arduous investigative work in many places - libraries, archives, books and through interviews with countless people.
How do you view current prospects for the zarzuela?
Not so clearly as I would like. Certainly a great public interest exists that could be economically exploited, but the same interest is not shown by the entrepreneurs who must invest in productions. In the Conservatory and in the song schools zarzuela is not taught as it should be; that "pride" we should have in it does not exist, some are even ashamed - though they always deny it. The zarzuela is "heritage theatre" and as such one must produce it and cherish it.
What should be done for greater exposure of the zarzuela?
Many things, but principally this: to have productions shared between the various theatres throughout Spain, thus adequately spreading the investment costs. Then again, it should be our business to get the television companies interested in zarzuela; this would also be the means of giving work to many performers and an excellent way to achieve high-quality publicity on a wide basis. Furthermore, the state does not give as much support as is believed, to the level necessary to accomplish substantial and worthwhile productions. Last, a great effort must be made to attract the young through zarzuela workshops, where they are taught to sing, dance, recite, act, to use the fan, wear the Manila shawl etc. - as you can see, it requires knowledge of many disciplines to be a good zarzuela performer.
What could be done in other countries?
I believe that first it's necessary for Europe to "discover" the zarzuela, along the lines that your friend Christopher Webber pursued in his London productions; when this is achieved, we will have taken a giant step to help us jump to other continents. But it has to be here, from where we should give support to others, that we ourselves must first give it the attention that zarzuela requires.
Did you know any zarzuela composers?
Yes, Pablo Sorozábal, Jesús Romo and Moreno Buendía, who could have been the major heir of the great masters and who continues working in this field; his output contains some of the last premieres of lyric theatre, notably Fuenteovejuna and Los vagabundos.
Throughout your investigations, which people created the greatest impression on you?
Rosendo Dalmau, who with Eduardo Bergés was the great tenor of our zarzuela grande. Bergés, who made his debut in Cuba, had at the end of his career to sell all his possessions to stay alive, except a laurel wreath that had been given to him by the great Julián Gayarre. For his part Dalmau ended up as a representative of the company formed by maestro Fernández Caballero.
Another who impressed me enormously was Lucrecia Arana, the great soprano who shared part of her life with the great sculptor Mariano Benlliure. The statue of his to be seen in Zaragoza on the theme of Agustina of Aragon, was inspired by the figure of Lucrecia.
Do you believe that the young accept zarzuela?
The young accept and like what is good and well done; because of this, it is evident that the only problem is to present good works well staged. The performances mounted in the Teatro de la Zarzuela for children are generally very successful.
What would you like to do, that you have not been able to do thus far, to help zarzuela?
To finally publish my book; whether or not it proved profitable financially, I would not have wasted my time, for I have been enriched over many years by the search, the analysis and the investigative work I have accomplished.
Emilio is an "open book". We exchange various anecdotes, we speak of that great actor Antonio Palacios, exiled in Cuba; we discuss dates concerning Tellería and his work El joven piloto (Emilio refers to a book of manuscript notes for what we seek, finding the dates of its performance at the Teatro de La Zarzuela were from 18th to 25th January, 1968). He signs his photograph for me, and thus we ended an unforgettable afternoon. What enthusiasm for zarzuela, how much passion for its continued existance!
© Pedro Gómez