Interview with the family ...
The Font Marco Family

Pedro Gómez Manzanares
meets with the famous family comprising
La Compañía Lírica Dolores Marco

(Madrid, 12th November 2009)

I never performed under “La Maestra Marco”, amongst other reasons because I am not an instrumentalist or singer, but sometimes I have closed my eyes and imagined myself back in the seventies, focused on that violin, eyes wide open and fully concentrated, following the lead of “La Maestra” ... a short-lived dream … I had the pleasure of joining in a tribute paid her in Madrid’s Restaurante Viena, shortly before she left for that unknown place where she may be standing next to her music stand, moving before a stave.

Dolores MarcoMaestra Marco said of zarzuela: “We must renew it … get youth interested in participating in it … the old zarzuela still has much that it is fresh, and many shady areas to be illuminated.”

I was in Madrid’s El Retiro, with the autumnal landscape of the lake in front of us and the sleek marble columns of Grases i Riera behind, framing King Alfonso XII’s statue sculpted by Mariano Benlliure. I talked with the children and granddaughter (young Eva represents the family’s latest generation of singers) of maestra Dolores Marco, who all follow the path that she marked out, embracing the different aspects creating Spanish lyric theatre – conducting, stage direction, singing and acting. All her pride, and that of the aficionados: Amelia, María Dolores, Montserrat, Eva, Lorenzo … only Marco was missing.

Do you find your mother’s words and wishes for zarzuela “illuminating”?

Amelia FontAmelia: Well that depends on who is in charge and who are the performers. They have the ability to make my mother's wishes reality.

It is thought that hiring people with a certain celebrity, but who come from outside zarzuela, is going to produce that “illumination.” It’s possible but not easy. You need a good deal of experience in this genre. It is not enough for a “name” to simply alight on our lyric theatre. There are young people within zarzuela waiting for more opportunities and options to be given to show their ability to revitalise the genre.

Lorenzo MoncloaLorenzo: Directors are key to this. There are two kinds of directors who fail: traditional ones, who do not think about “illumination”, and those others who want to “illuminate” but suffer from lack of means. And directors of quality unused to zarzuela can make a “integrated package” that fails overall to develop it.

What is easier, what more difficult to change?

Lorenzo: I would not change the essence – that is, what the creators aimed for or tried to do in their work. If the substance is relevant to other times and places, then we can translate that whilst maintaining their aims.

Amelia: Sometimes, I hear from this or that director about their intention to remove comedy scenes inserted by the writer amongst the more dramatic parts. They argue that breaking up the line of the drama is negative for the work, and so it is “best” to cut the text. You see, this is going against the author’s intent.

In years to come where we can find “illumination”?

Montserrat Font MarcoMontserrat: I think renewal must happen now, else it may be too late. In any case, I don’t know that people coming from other fields such as theatre, film or symphonic music are suitable for this, because these disciplines are so alien, sometimes, to our genre. If you take the musical aspect, you cannot lead a zarzuela just by being a good symphonic conductor. Zarzuela demands more, it requires dynamism, knowledge of the singing and speaking voice.

The lack of specialisation in zarzuela at the Madrid Conservatory is something that should be corrected urgently. It is very important to the genre.

Amelia: We have had orchestral conductors whose training and experience has been exclusively with wind bands, and that shows clearly in their technique. When conducting zarzuela it’s as if they were leading a band.

As producers how have you followed these lines in your stagings?

Dolores: In Calipso we wanted to mix theatre actors with zarzuela singers and actors. In El molinero de Subiza we mixed projections with settings and decor. And in the tributes to Chueca and Alonso we decided on a style of movement for the actors which was easy for young people to identify with, giving them an American musical feel. All of which needed widely varied abilities.

Montserrat, how you organize an orchestra? and what can our players learn from those others who have something to contribute?

Montserrat: I should make clear that the company usually hires a “fixer” who in turn recruits the orchestra players for the orchestra. I decide on the ground rules, that is the number and combination of instruments within the orchestra. Of course I can suggest or recommend hiring particular musicians, but the responsibility is on others.

String players from Eastern European countries have wonderful skill, though somewhat cold and lacking some of the necessary heart to play zarzuela. Spanish players lack their technique. As for wind players, many great musicians come from the Levant. As the English character says in La viejecita: “The Spanish have hot blood,” and our musicians demonstrate that.

How should a producer’s “boldness and courage” in producing zarzuela rewarded?

Maria Dolores Font MarcoDolores: We should be allowed to perform in theatres outside the usual Centros Culturales [ed. local arts centres.] It is not easy for private companies to stage productions in the theatres. These opportunities must be provided, no matter how limited. When we approach theatres in many cities, we find that their budgets have been used up on local companies or semi-professional amateur shows, and this prevents the appearance of professional companies.

Our mother used to say: “amateurs for the Centros Culturales, professionals for the theatres.”

Calipso (Compania Lirica Dolores Marco, Merida 2006)
Calipso - Compañía Lírica Dolores Marco, Mérida 2006

Lorenzo, what could be done to strengthen festivals and similar events, such as Oviedo, Las Palmas, La Solana?

Lorenzo: We must strengthen specific venues for specific moments. Performance must follow these aspects. It should be a “product” for one particular venue, for one specific time and for one particular audience. We must analyze and study well to offer the most appropriate show. One example was the correct decision to move zarzuela in the summer city festival from La Corrala to the Sabatini Gardens. Although that meant a reduction in the season length.

To all this must be added a sense of initiative not bound by history. And ­– very important –  finding the right sponsor to promote your product,  not simply looking for someone who wants to make money, but someone whose product can reasonably be promoted. As for example with movies sponsored by television channels.

What should we ask of the Teatro de la Zarzuela?

Eva Font MarcoEva: It has a lot of money compared to what private companies have, and could do things that they do not. I don’t see it giving the proper return on what is spent.

Amelia: They could hire more people more often, which would profit them in a greater range of productions. I'm thinking of my brothers. There should be more work for all, more zarzuela programmed, which would give more people entry to the theatre.

Montserrat: They should not confuse modernization of zarzuela with promoting stagings with distasteful, obscene scenes and effeminate interpretations that are inappropriate and were not in the minds of the creators. Why not return to the summer stagings made years ago, allowing the entrance of private companies?

Dolores: They should enabling more alternation between newer and more traditional artists, avoiding the contradictions that sometimes occur because of opposed interests. They should allow private companies to act in this wonderful theatre. Give us opportunities.

Lorenzo: They should be flying the flag of zarzuela, to help educate our children in the genre and attract them as our audience of the future.

Do you not think we should stop bemoaning the absence of subsidies; and fight, think, innovate, bring new ideas to market? Remember when a group of businessmen decided to invent género chico they had a commercial success. Surely we cannot support the current situation?

Dolores: It is impossible to recoup the cost of a production. For example, our tribute to Chueca had only a few performances, no access to the theatres (as we said before), a mandatory maximum price, and competition from the stagings and – subsidized – prices at Teatro de la Zarzuela. We had the imagination and took initiatives, as for instance sending letters to some 2,000 schools and inviting them to attend. Only two groups did.

Amelia: You know how much is spent on those productions in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, for the festival of San Isidro? Then imagine what that money could have done. I would like to claim more television support for zarzuela, I think that could bring a result.

Lorenzo: There isn’t a clear case for supporting the zarzuela. We must find new ways. Could we not change the rules of Charitable Status to help here? I think there’s a lack of agreed consensus about the future of zarzuela.

Marco MoncloaIs this the time to propose again, as once I did formally to the Fundación de la Zarzuela, the institution of a congress in which to debate these issues, with the sole purpose of restoring Spanish lyric theatre to where it should be, with representatives from all sectors who have something to contribute in this field: singers, musicians, directors, government administrators, SGAE, press, aficionados?

It is time to finish. The darkness of this cold autumn afternoon starts to embrace us. My fingers can hardly hold my pen, and our words are increasingly chilly, despite the energy and passion that each member of this family puts into them.

© Pedro Gomez Manzanares 2009
Christopher Webber (trans.) 2009

en español
Calipso - review
El molinero de Subiza - review
Alonso homage - review (Spanish)
zarzuela homepage