Federico Chueca
Plaza Mayor de Chueca
Zarzuela for Federico Chueca’s centenary

Madrid, Plaza Mayor
17th May 2008

review by
Enrique Mejías García

Close your eyes and travel for a moment back to the night of July 2nd 1886, and the premiere of La Gran Vía. We are at the Café del Vapor, No.2 Calle Mesón de Paredes, at the corner of Plaza del Progreso (today’s Tirso de Molina.) The miracle is possible thanks to that fairy godmother, ever ready to light up her audience with a smile for her sympathy and imagination, called Esperanza Roy. “Hope [esperanza] is the last thing you lose,” she reminds us, as we await with her the return of Don Federico from the Teatro Felipe, accompanied by his ratas, menegildas and caballeros de gracia.

From this concept the homage to the local composer takes wing, organised by the Arts Department of Madrid’s City Council. For the third consecutive year they’ve filled the iconic space of Plaza Mayor during the Festival of San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, offering a cast of singers not associated with the operatic world. The “house”, as expected, was full, the plaza crowded with people – of all ages! – to hear and enjoy the music of this composer, who at the same time as transmitting boundless joy, speaks to the heart in simple, honest language.

While the anecdotal plot cobbled together by Manuel Maestro didn’t flow with great interest, the spectacle unfolded in amazingly explosive manner, thanks to performances of flawless or even in many cases outstanding quality. The musical support from Luis Remartínez and the Orquesta del Centenario was judicious and lively. Each number was presented to top the one before, and the net result was vibrantly exciting for all.

How could I fail to mention the canción de la gitana from La alegría de la huerta, sung with such painful jondura by the ever-brilliant Diana Navarro? Very impressive also were Greta’s high-voltage tango from El año pasado por agua, and the surprisingly emotional Chapí-esque romanza from La corría de toros done by the superlative Charo Reina. It was a big surprise to find a piece so little known in this kind of show; it’s worth saying that the extensive array of songs had been wisely and judiciously chosen for the occasion.

Las Supremas de Móstoles made a delicious trio of thieves from La Gran Vía, and Malú gave us a tasteful interpretation of the chotis from the same show – though less happy was Manu Tenorio, a Caballero without too much Gracia. It was quite otherwise with David Venancio Muro who captured all hearts in Wamba’s couplets (El bateo) and Neptune’s delicious waltz from El año pasado por agua. He it was also who played the character of Chueca in a speech that moved more than one onlooker (or more than a hundred…?)

For completeness sake, better mention Fernanda Castillo and María Adamuz who embodied that resounding pair Manuela and Pepa in Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente. Alongside them of course, was the Coro Maestro Guridi under Juan Pablo de Juan who could move, sing – and perform! – in a more than merely efficient manner.

A bouquet for director/designer Paco Azorín. Together with costume designer Chari Esteban he succeeded in mounting a show which got away from the mantons and mantillas that are such easy clichés of anthologies such as this. The elegant ambiguity of tuxedos and fine fabrics made for a staging which everyone liked, and which managed first and foremost to communicate and get across to the audience what it was talking about: Chueca, the immortal Chueca! The composer this time round as popular as ever, just as he would have wanted. The “Soul of Madrid”, a bold spirit who wrote over half a hundred works (many of them today in curiously absolute oblivion) for the ever-young city which wants above all to live life and have fun. One hundred years after his death Chueca’s music hasn’t dated, that’s for sure, but keeps talking directly to the heart in such original and attractive ways that we can only doff our hats and unanimously say: “Congratulations, Maestro!”

© Enrique Mejías García 2008
translation © Christopher Webber

Cast : Greta, Malú, David Venancio Muro, Diana Navarro, Charo Reina, Esperanza Roy, Las Supremas de Móstoles, Manu Tenorio, Fernanda Castillo, María Adamuz and Nino Abou. Paco Azorín (d.); Chari Esteban ( costumes); Tino Sánchez ( choreography); Ximo Díaz (lighting); Manuel Maestro ( dramaturgy); Coro Maestro Guridi ( dir. Juan Pablo de Juan); Orquesta del Centenario; Luis Remartínez (c.)

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12 June 2008