Enseñanza libre y La gatita blanca
An immense G?
Gerónimo Giménez had a predilection for spelling his name with a G. Our ungrateful posterity should hail his contribution to lyric theatre with an immense G for ‘Great’, because of the immensity of the shadow his talent still casts. So the opportunity to hear two of his works in a double bill is at the very least enticing. Enseñanza libre (‘Free Showing’, 1901) and La gatita blanca (‘The White Kitten’, 1905 written in tandem with Amadeo Vives) possess, inevitably, all the grace, freshness and elegance that are so recognizable in Giménez, as well as an amazing capacity for concision: could more be said in fewer bars than in those real miniature gems, the Seguidillas from Enseñanza libre or the Machicha from La gatita blanca? From the first note the composer’s ability to scatter unforgettable songs over librettos, in themselves often no better than passable, is evident. I’m thinking of the dimly audible Cuplés from Cinematógrafo nacional (1907) ... what a treat! And what about the precious ‘Swimmers’ Waltz’, possibly the best aesthetically achieved number here, given Nuria Castejón’s superb choreography – along with the equally effective and dramatically sensational ‘Chocolate Trio’. No reproaches about the music – quite the contrary. The problem is that the space from number and number was invariably filled by the abominable libretto of Enrique Viana.
The aim of Daniel Bianco, who never tires of repeating that he wants to “turn the theatre around” with this staging, was astounding. He has partly succeeded. The trouble is, that – just as from the sublime to the ridiculous – from amazement to horror is only one step; and if something went wrong this production was always going to be a chaotic record of the kind of tics which, to our misfortune, seem to be the current house brand. As it is, the campery on show scarcely justifies such unjustifiable extravagance. From “turn around” to “turn upside down”, as we know, is not much more than one step. And it is not that it is a bad idea for the audience to see the theatre, which is lovely, from the stage. The effect is gorgeous, very beautiful... but to do that, it was not necessary to stage this circus – a guided tour would have sufficed. Or if there had to be a staging, make it interesting. At least, say something! And, above all, make sure that presenting a show from this perspective has some significance, some intention beyond dislocating the public – in a literal and figurative sense – by giving them something original or providing amusement.
This pop crap of Bianco and Viana – to call it “nonsense” seems too benevolent – did not need to turn around the theatre to say what it had to say: precisely nothing. It would have been the same had it been on the stage, because it is an exercise in form without the smallest content, a huge bubble of champagne, brilliant and fleeting, but without fizz. A shadow of zarzuela for people who dislike zarzuela. Because lowering the lights during the Gavotte, admittedly, is very nice, but the lamp-style costumes … well, they’re not so nice. We’ve already seen people dressed up as furniture in Beauty and the Beast. The excuse of choosing to make us swallow these two hours of cringeworthy boredom because of the alleged poor quality of the original libretti, might have some merit if they had thought it through seriously.
What’s happened to zarzuela over the last few years is something that happened to the islands of the Caribbean some centuries ago: it has become the anchorage of pirates and the scene of atrocities. What a good excuse to put a chain saw through the “incomprehensible jokes” (thus spake Viana) or the scripts from which “macho sexist stuff needs to be deleted”. Ah, sexism! This modern horse of Attila, wherever it treads no grass grows. If there are wrongs to be righted, what a gold mine! Viana will have plenty of work fabricating new librettos, from Luisa Fernanda to La traviata. The sad moral of all this is to launch a defence of zarzuela as oafish as it is dishonest, a defence which according to Bianco-and-Viana’s silly thesis – one for all – (or Viana-and-Bianco’s – all for one) must first admit that its detractors are right, that it is stale, boring, old, sexist, and worse. So much so, that we have to swap the incomprehensible jokes for dull bad ones, to change the scripts by demolishing them and bartering the tiples for TV stars...
To all this we must add a rather limp Cristina Faus, an excessively stiff Axier Sánchez, a misplaced Roko, an orchestra not always audible above the hubbub, and a chorus which despite being fractured and scattered remained effective and powerful. Neither these, nor the good work of actors and dancers, nor some interesting creations of Pepe Corzo (nor the finger biscuits) could prevent this show being washed quickly down the drain, just the fate earlier of the fabric that covered the mirrored floor – a rare revelation, an azure whirlpool, worthy of praise – as both conjuring trick and spoiler. “Everybody come and spend the afternoon with us” is the subtitle of the double bill, but we get exactly the opposite of what is promised: for one imagines at least ten more interesting teatime treats than this. If it wasn’t for the music of Giménez, which is proof against shipwrecks... !
What a waste, that immense G for this “immense g...”
© Carlos Figueroa y zarzuela.net, 2017
(name) Ed. Originally Jerónimo Jiménez, which he considered more plebeian.
“immense g...” Ed. English readers should be aware that there is some untranslatable wordplay here. In Spanish, ‘immensa g…’ is short for ‘immensa gilipollez’, a very rude phrase perhaps rendered in English as a ‘big wank’.