Zarzuela Cycle
Veranos de la Villa 2004

Opera Comica de Madrid 2004

Gloria y peluca (Music: Francisco A. Barbieri / Libretto: José de la Villa del Valle) / El dúo de La Africana (Music: Manuel Fernández Caballero / Libretto: Miguel Echegaray)

Mis dos mujeres (Music: Francisco A. Barbieri / Libretto: Luis de Olona)

El barquillero (Music: Ruperto Chapí / Libretto: José López Silva & José Jackson Veyán) / La revoltosa (Music: Ruperto Chapí / Libretto: José López Silva & Carlos Fernández Shaw)

Compañía Ópera Cómica de Madrid
Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid
5 - 29 August 2004

Ignacio Jassa Haro

There's a change of air apparent in the music theatre provided this summer by the Ayuntamiento de Madrid. To the traditional season at the Centro Cultural de la Villa reviewed here we should add two zarzuela productions of undeniably high quality, in staging as well as interpretation: La eterna canción at the Teatro Español (reviewed by Christopher Webber) and El huésped del Sevillano at la Muralla Árabe, in Oviedo's Teatro Campoamor production. All this makes up a satisfyingly ample offering, with five programmes and seven works, covering each epoch of the romantic zarzuela, combining the highly popular with works previously forgotten, though worthy of revival today for their undoubted quality and beauty. If to these programmes sponsored by la Concejalía de las Artes madrileña we add the private initiative of Antonio Amengual's Compañía Lírica Española - a season of six different zarzuela programs at the Teatro Reina Victoria - and the tail-end of the season at the Teatro de la Zarzuela (which covers almost the entire month of July) we find this summer enjoys the widest zarzuela activity of recent times.

To focus on the season at the Centro Cultural de la Villa, it should be emphasized that the prime instigators were the company Ópera Cómica de Madrid themselves. It was becoming a nonsense that the city of Madrid had gone so long without enjoying the work of this dynamic and lively cultural venture under the command of Francisco Matilla and Fernando Poblete. The premiere of Mis dos mujeres during the last Festival de Otoño de la Comunidad de Madrid in the neighbouring town of Móstoles served as a magnificent calling card to the municipal mandarins, at the time of decision as to who should provide the traditional zarzuela programmes for los Veranos de la Villa.

Luis Alvarez / Francesco Calero / Ruth Delaria
Luis Álvarez and his "dos mujeres", Francesca Calero y Ruth Delaria

The season opened in singular manner, coupling the género chico classic El dúo de La Africana by Manuel Fernández Caballero with a pioneering work in the shorter musical theatre form, Barbieri's Gloria y peluca. The first was a revival, the second a production new for the occasion. The combination of these two very different works, allowing for the forty and more years distance between their composition and the evolution of the zarzuela, is nevertheless astutely gauged given that both librettos are set within the stage world of Opera. Thus if in Gloria y peluca we meet a wig-dresser who is on the verge of losing his fiancée in his eagerness to emulate Rossini, in El dúo ... the protagonists are members of a provincial opera company whose human passions endanger their work for love of their art. Barbieri's score shows the eternal struggle between Italian and Spanish music in the middle of the century - the piece dates from 1850 - and arrives at a magical truce: the creation of a native genre (the Spanish comic opera or zarzuela) results from the symbiosis of Spanish popular music with a foreign musical genre completely naturalised in Spain (the Italian opera.) Caballero, only a few years younger than Barbieri but of greater creative longevity, composed almost at the end of century his great género chico work, in which the business of Italian opera in Spain is sent up satirically, and in which we see once more how Spanish music comes to terms with Italian.

In the case of Mis dos mujeres, second production of the mini-season - we have a magnificent example of how the model of zarzuela that Barbieri had created a few years before was consolidated. The work, rich in melodic beauty and with several moments of superb inspiration (the Collegiates' Chorus and the Music Lesson to mention the most outstanding) shows a musician in perfect aesthetic communion with his librettist. Numbers such as the Quartet or Trio in Act 2 are examples of a judicial use of music as a dramatic force, in this case of a comic nature.

As for the double bill dedicated to Chapí, we were given a new production of two sainetes of Madrid popular life. One of them is probably the sainete par excellence (La revoltosa) whereas the other (El barquillero) is a good example of the composer's geniality and the great formal perfection that this brew of music theatre reached around the turn of the century.

The most important aspect of this summer festival is without doubt the revival of the lesser-known works: Gloria y peluca, Mis dos mujeres and El barquillero. Ópera Cómica de Madrid has expended plenty of imagination on all three in stagings mindful of visual effect, with immense taken care over artistic values, with authentic passion for the musical side, contriving above all to maximise the sense of spectacle. The results are every bit as good as could have been hoped.

The staging of these productions were very different, which gave the cycle a gratifying variety. If we drew up a scale of stylisation the Chapí double bill (lovingly realistic) would be located in the lower zones. Mis dos mujeres is by contrast a staging of remarkable scenic stylisation; and although we recognise the settings this is achieved through a remarkable spatial abstraction. The Barbieri/Caballero pairing is about half way between the two, with a detailed mise-en-scene contained at a certain level in abstraction. Nevertheless, whatever the degree of stylisation all the settings had great, limpid beauty.

The performers' work has been prepared carefully in all the revived rarities, with more evidence of improvisation in the better-known repertory pieces. Of special importance is the approach to the idea of castizo ("purity") in the Chapí double bill. Francisco Matilla restores verbal naturalism to the working class types with which the librettos of López Silva, Jackson Veyán and Fernández Shaw are filled. These great librettists created very sharply-etched characters with which they populated their no less sharply-etched stories. With the passage of time, the poor taste of some interpreters and stage directors and the easy complicity of audiences have twisted the refinement of the writing, persuading public opinion of the cheap vulgarity of the género chico.

Francisco Matilla
Francisco Matilla

In Gloria y peluca this clean scenic concept of the comedy was to the fore, matched by a brilliant musical interpretation from orchestra, chorus and soloists - not least the magisterial Luis Álvarez. As for Mis dos mujeres the literary adaptation of Olona's libretto (which deserves an analytical essay to itself) dynamised and rejuvenated an ingenious story represented with ideal freshness. The title role of El barquillero, engraved in our memory by the tenor voice of the Basque Carlos Munguía who recorded it with Argenta, was played here by a soprano just as in the 1900 premiere. Ruth Delaria emulated Amparo Taberner in the Teatro Eldorado by playing Pepillo in true tiple style, thus exuding a delicious "period" aroma - though real-life travesty is much more the norm nowadays!

On the debit side is the lack of resounding achievement in the productions of the two repertory works of the cycle. This is particularly obvious in comparison with the accuracy of other companies which have presented these and other great works hundreds of times throughout Spain, forging the performing tradition; although it must also be said that the timeworn repetition of those same perfectly assimilated steps and gestures has also influenced this production. Another blot is the fact that La revoltosa takes place in a common milieu to El barquillero, which although giving unity to the double bill creates major scenic problems in transporting it from the courtyard indicated in the libretto, to a setting of theatrical flats against which it is impossible to give full scope to the action of the sainete (the final scene is an especial sufferer.) In El dúo ... the shade of José Luis Alonso is omnipresent, and Luis Álvarez seems to be recreating the staging by the late director in which he himself has participated so many times.

Luis Álvarez, principal interpreter in all these works, needs the amplest commentary as well as the greatest praise of all. In Gloria y peluca his role bears the weight of the work. The trio in which he sings all the parts - baritone, tenor and soprano - from an opera written by his own character fairly aroused great applause. In El dúo ... he retained the focus despite the aforementioned reservation. Mis dos mujeres has Don Diego at its centre and Álvarez incarnates everything that gives breath and impulse to the character; his work is absolutely precise and demonstrates a perfect synthesis of musical expressivity and theatrical comicality. El barquillero has in this baritone a benchmark Melgares. Finally his Sr. Candelas in La revoltosa is a specially effective study of ultimately twisted rectitude. What wonderful versatility this interpreter shows in jumping from the common, through the caricature, to the courtly!

"Music Master" Don Diego (Luis Alvarez) tangles with the Convent Girls (Act 3)
“Maestro de Música” Don Diego (Luis Álvarez)
practising with the novices (
Mis dos mujeres, Act III)

We should comment briefly on the merits of the other main singers and actors. Milagros Martín took part in both género chico programmes with great brilliance. Nevertheless it was in the two classics where her full stature as a great singer-actress fully unfolded. If her Antonelli exuded grace and vitality her Mari Pepa cannily combined the brittle and the sweet. Bravo to her! The tenor Alejandro Roy for his part firmly grasped the main, male vocal role in Mis dos mujeres as well as Giuseppini in El dúo ...; in both his musical brilliance obscured his acting merits. Ruth Delaria who in spite of her youth is already identified with the main role in Mis dos mujeres, becomes a model Pepillo upon whom the production of El barquillero turns. Francesca Calero confirmed the expertise in the role of the Countess in Mis dos mujeres she'd previously shown in Móstoles. Carmelo Cordón likewise made an excellent, tasteful Felipe in La revoltosa.

Amongst the character actors we must make particular mention of the brilliant work of Trinidad Iglesias in all her manifestations - Doña Serafina in El dúo ..., Madre Angustias in Mis dos mujeres, Prudencia in El barquillero and Gorgonia in La revoltosa. Finally, Beatriz de Urbina (a correct Amina in El dúo ...); Mario Rodrigo (good in both Chapís but having problems in Mis dos mujeres playing a Cupido-Blas thought out for another actor); Miguel López Galindo (excellent as Don Gaspar in Mis dos mujeres); Mar Abascal (a dominant Soledad in La revoltosa); Paco Lahoz (unsurpassable in the Chapís) and Carmelo Peña (likewise excellent in both those sainetes).

The orchestra, not surprisingly, labours under the necessity of not having a permanent personnel. The chorus, mixed in both double bills but inexplicably female only in Mis dos mujeres, was good. At the helm was Carlos Cuesta, with brilliant in both Barbieris, but somewhat inconsistent in Caballero and the Chapís (far better in El barquillero.)

Ópera Cómica de Madrid have given us magical evenings in this resounding summer season. Let us hope that their presence on Madrid's billboards is maintained in future. They - and the audience - deserve it!

© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2004
Translation © Christopher Webber

Casts: Gloria y peluca: Milagros Martín (María); Luis Álvarez (Marcelo). El dúo de La Africana: Carlos Velicias (Pérez); Luis Álvarez (Querubini); Beatriz de Urbina (Amina); Alejandro Roy (Giussepini); Milagros Martín (Antonelli); Manuel Lozano (El bajo); Trinidad Iglesias (Doña Serafina); Andrés Poblete (Inspector). Mis dos mujeres: Mario Rodrigo (Cupido-Blas); Francesca Calero (La condesa); Luis Álvarez (Don Diego); Ruth Delaria (Inés); Miguel López Galindo (Don Gaspar); David Gómez Montiel (El notario); Alejandro Roy (Don Félix); Trinidad Iglesias (Madre Angustias); Carlos Velicias (El regidor). El barquillero: Ruth Delaria (Pepillo); Milagros Martín (Socorro); Trinidad Iglesias (Prudencia); Paco Lahoz (Eugenio); Luis Álvarez (Melgares); Mario Rodrigo (Coletilla); Carmelo Peña (Cayetano). La revoltosa: Milagros Martín (Mari Pepa); Mar Abascal (Soledad); Trinidad Iglesias (Gorgonia); Lucía Martín (Encarna); Cristian Poblete (Chupitos); Luis Álvarez (Señor Candelas); Carmelo Cordón (Felipe); Paco Lahoz (Cándido); Carmelo Peña (Tiberio); Mario Rodrigo (Atenodoro) Orquesta Ensamble Instrumental de Madrid; Coro de Ópera Cómica de Madrid; Carlos Cuesta (conductor); Fernando Navajas (designer); Mariana Mara (costumes); Pedro Pablo Melendo (lighting); Fernando Poblete (executive producer); Francisco Matilla (director)

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