Sorozábal · Baroja · Serrano
For the third consecutive year, the Teatro Español has included zarzuela in its programme. But if their last helping left us with a slightly stale taste in the mouth, by limiting themselves to a repeat of the delicious and loudly acclaimed La eterna canción from the previous year, this season compensates by staging two new Sorozábal pieces in a double bill of colossal length – and one that scales no lower artistic heights.
Adiós a la bohemia is a one-act piece with hardly any spoken dialogue, halfway between opera and zarzuela. In formal structure and aesthetic values this is theoretically an operatic vessel. But the resulting theatricality, subject matter and musical style are firmly in the zarzuela tradition, of which Sorozábal is, without any doubt, the last great exponent. Music of huge vitality is intimately bound to Pío Baroja’s text, in a roller-coaster emotional ride which powerfully affects our emotions as the opera unfolds.
Ramón is a failed painter who has decided to return to his pueblo and resume a life tilling the fields. Before leaving he fixes a date with his old lover Trini in the cafe where they spent their artistic heyday. His anxious wait before Trini’s arrival makes space for an aural depiction of turn-of-the-century Madrid; and his intense conversation with the woman he loved reveals the sad reality - that she is a woman without a future whose only remedy lies in giving herself over to prostitution. Trini’s negative answer to Ramón’s proposal that they give their relationship one more try triggers their last farewell, leaving the painter to a state of conformist desperation. Everything in the story is supposedly realismo – “realism” – or at least, that is what the vagabond-poet who provides prologue and epilogue to the scene assures us.
Mario Gas, in perfect symbiosis with brother Manuel in the pit, produces a clean reading which allows the work to shine with its own light. Their staging of Adiós a la bohemia evokes for us the world of Baroja and Gutiérrez Solana, artists for whom sordid reality rises to the condition of art through a magical symbiosis between realism and expressionism, garnished with a certain sprig of black humour. Accordingly although Juan Sanz and Miguel Ángel Coso present us with the orthodox stage setting of a fin de siècle cafe, Francisco Ariza’s lighting, Brisa Salietti’s costumes and the histrionics of the secondary characters under Mario Gas’s direction all accentuate this grotesque aspect.
María Rey-Joly and Javier Galán make a somewhat mismatched couple. If Rey-Joly surprises us with her complete spiritual identification with Trini, in perfect pathos without emotional excess, Galán’s Ramón – exceedingly energetic and on the young side – doesn’t have the halo of bohemianism which the part requires, and the result is flat. Both singers are top drawer enough for Sorozábal’s demanding score, glorying in faultless phrasing and vocalization. Iñaki Fresán’s vagabond-poet captivates us from the first note of the parlando Prologue, although some diction problems make this Pagliacci-like declaration of intent not absolutely intelligible. The fine staging surprisingly includes the spoken episode of el sátiro (“the Satyr”), missing from the three extant CD recordings of this ópera chica. Actor Francisco Piquer evoked a spontaneous exclamation of nausea from the audience in the face of so crude an exhibition of base instincts.
Black, el payaso, an operetta in a prologue and three acts, shines brilliantly after the brooding pessimism of Adiós a la bohemia. Sorozábal’s music, fluid and expressive, by turns cheery, melancholy, crazy, tender, self-assured, intense and frivolous – but always inspired – makes for a first-rate score perfectly capturing the librettist’s dramatic gambits. The colourful and visually exuberant production is not the conventional exhibition of scenic luxury and grandiloquence that the libretto, soaked in the conventions of Austro-Hungarian operetta, requests. Again, as in the Baroja opera, we see Sorozábal teasing the concept itself. And once again, although its creators labelled the work an operetta, its allegiance to that lyric subgenre is only skin deep. Story, atmosphere, rhythms, musical forms and so on may be operetta-like, but underneath all this lies the theatrical impulse of zarzuela, making Black the glorious culmination of the romantic genre invented by Barbieri.
Black is the story of a clown who is mistakenly taken to be the long-disappeared heir to the throne of the tiny kingdom of Orsonia, situated in operetta’s Mittel-Europa. When his affianced Princess apparently recognises him in the course of a Parisian performance, the love that Black feels towards her finds an echo. Thus the clown becomes king, and his mother country starts to enjoy happier days. Everything goes well until the true prince, all un-eager to recover his throne, appears secretly before Black to challenge him. Black’s conscience forces him to confess his imposture to the Princess, who bitterly rejects him; though soon enough, after witnessing Black’s heroic defence of her during a failed revolutionary assault on the palace, she once more accepts him as her true sovereign.
Ignacio García decides to have the plot of Black narrated to us as in a novel. For this he uses the circus ambience of the Prologue, revealing the ring behind the drop curtain at the end of that spectacle. The eventful journeyings of the three following acts are carried out under the big top, between trapezes and animal cages, and surrounded by spectacular juggling and acrobatic exercises. The splendour of the court of San Telmo can only be glimpsed through the luxurious, caricatured costumes of the principals, since the crowd is created by artists of that Alhambra Circus into which the Teatro Español has been transformed.
The dramatic story of the zarzuela is narrated, the great majority of the spoken dialogue having been suppressed. In this way the action is unfolds with great fluidity although at the cost that we are always conscious that we are seeing a fiction acted out. The new (somewhat tortuous) texts replacing Francisco Serrano Anguita’s script have been written by María José García; the changes not only benefit the staging’s effectiveness but also accentuate the work’s ideological message – which for the Barcelona of the 40’s presented quite a severe, although somewhat clumsily drawn, political message which went over the censors’ heads. They’ve also hit home to current audiences, in a time when some Spaniards are blindly forgetting the terrible breach opened in Spain by the rise of Franco’s military power.
The singers and actors recreating Black, el payaso have been better cast than in Adiós a la bohemia. The role of the clown-prince fits the qualities of baritone Javier Galán like a glove. Vocally this young Valencian possesses generous volume, the beauty of which is marked by firm tone, spectacular high tessitura and great attention to the text; his acting accurately delineates a totally human character. His reading of the romanza“Hacer de un mísero payaso...” is both emotional and full of sincere feeling. In addition, his titanic work in singing such a long and demanding role, five acts night after night for four weeks, is admirable.
Bass Enrique Baquerizo makes a masterly Sancho Panza to his Quijote. His extrovert but always straightforward reading of the role of White – vocally outstanding in spite of the present limitations of his instrument – allows him to deploy his great acting talents to the full. Beatriz Díaz makes a virtue of the unflinching uprightness that Princess Sofía imposes on her; her elegant line and fine, light lyric soprano delineate beautifully through music the spiritual fragility of the role she plays. The comedy quartet makes for a star turn – tiple comediennes Silvia Luchetti (a delicious Catalina, with clear voice and diction) and Trinidad Iglesias (a solemn yet affectionate Condesa de Saratov, with perfect intonation), with actor-singers Tony Cruz (a graceful though somewhat mature Marat) and Paco Maestre (the affected and pompous Barón de Orsava) – show their mettle in comedy dúo and cuarteto. The actor Emilio Gavira hits the right note as circus Ringmaster, remarkably engrossing as the narrator. Francisco Piquer is spot on too in the sentimental role of Gregorio Zinenko, the true King’s “wrinkled retainer”. Tenor José Manuel Montero completes the cast, his tasteful singing of Dupont’s dúo-romanza and Czardas compromised by a certain strain in alt.
The well-balanced orchestra faithfully follows Manuel Gas’ subtle dynamics and sensible tempi. It’s supported by a well-drilled chorus (electric in their contributions to Adiós a la bohemia). The auditorium’s excellent acoustics enhance the quality of the musical interpretation. Such results, so satisfactory from both theatrical and musical perspectives, raise the question as to whether this theatre does not have the moral obligation to channel all this artistic talent through regular programming of lyric theatre. Why not revive those happy times when the Teatro del Príncipe [ed. the Español’s old name] was one of the capital’s lyric jewels? I’ll lead the cheers!
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2006
Cast: Adiós a
la bohemia.Ópera chica in one act. Pablo Sorozábal
/ Pío Baroja. Iñaki Fresán (Un vagabundo); Javier
Galán (Ramón); María Rey-Joly (Trini); Tony Cruz (Un
señor que lee El Heraldo); Francisco Piquer (Un señor de
capa); Rafael Núñez (Un mozo); Verónica Luján (Una
señora vieja); Irene Escolar (Muchacha 1ª); Alicia Cabot (Muchacha
2ª); José Alberto García (Un chulo); Gustavo Piqué
(Un pianista); Juan Mirá (Un violinista). Black, el
payaso.Opereta in a prologue and three acts. Pablo
Sorozábal / Francisco Serrano Anguita (New version – María
José García). Javier Galán (Black); Enrique
Baquerizo (White); Beatriz Díaz (Sofía de Surevia); Tony Cruz
(Henry Marat); Silvia Luchetti (Catalina Feodorovna); Paco Maestre
(Barón de Orsava); Trinidad Iglesias (Condesa de Saratov); José
Manuel Montero (Carlos Dupont); Francisco Piquer (Gregorio Zinenko); Emilio
Gavira (El director de escena); Jorge Merino (Baydarof); Juan Mira (Un
violinista); José Fernández Franch (Un clarinetista); José
María Augusto (Un acordeonista); Marisa Prada (Trapecista);
Héctor Vázquez (Malabarista 1º); Óscar Alba