Vote for the King!
Close to the time of municipal and regional elections in Spain, Teatro de la Zarzuela has launched its new production of El rey que rabió , a highly – yes, highly – political work. The theatre’s director Luis Olmos squares up to his third Chapí production by putting his money on multidisciplinary stage values. To the musical and theatrical components he adds, as usual for him, dance; but he also passionately embraces another stage universe – the circus. The superfluous justification of the resulting artistic amalgam is that it facilitates storytelling in the style of an innocent, child-like fable.
Doubtless nobody needs to buy that excuse. Spain has been, is and always will be a circus – in the worst sense – although I don’t believe it is the only place on the planet with a similar profile. Where is the society which functions without untenable contradictions or progresses without covering its tracks with unspeakable lies? Those sages Ramos Carrión and Aza moulded in the magical couplets del rey, in the first scene of this zarzuela, an authentic “electoral program” that’s little distanced from the utopian – or should we better say “mendacian”? – politics of nowadays. The King was for the creators of this zarzuela an incarnation not only of executive authority (in our time spread about here in Spain, due to decentralization, between several public bodies) but of that same system in which the needs of administration lag light years behind the governmental needs of those who administer.
Luis Olmos’ staging has moments of searing visual beauty, with coldly mechanistic design counteracted by the warmth of costume and lighting. Rosa’s romanza is perhaps its culminating moment, with a perfect symbiosis between sets, lights and choreography, to which is added a wonderful mutual understanding of musical comedy between Susana Cordón and the orchestra, conducted with a perfect sense of the staging by Miquel Ortega. Jorge de León is not able to endow his King with the indispensable bufo tone required; at time his role is sung so much from the heart that he makes us doubt our rooted republican convictions. León’s unsuitability for this role is not, in any case, exclusively his fault: whence this insistence on having tenors sing this way when they are made to “interpret” roles originally written for soprano tiples? I don’t demand Chapí’s original conception should be restored because of pig-headed philological orthodoxy, but because I believe that playing the protagonist as a “breeches role” enriches its dramatic point.
Emilio Sánchez, Luis Álvarez, Emilio García Carretero and Amelia Font draw respectively a Jeremías, General, Juan and María totally effectively sung, but quite conventional in the spoken dialogue, something that is doubtless the director’s responsibility. In any case it has to be said that this directive is not an unconscious deficiency but a deliberate change of emphasis away from the text towards other values. The corps de ballet and circus artists grab hold here of the protagonism lost by the characters. Their choreographic-acrobatic exercises, cleverly interpolated, are integrated with total naturalness into the dramatic discourse. The costumes (which almost define a new species of one-browed, short-necked human being), and the stage space (totally filled by the soloists, chorus, dancers and circus performers) also work to mark that immersion in the visual and physical at the expense of the text. Both are brilliant and beautiful but very remote from the classic tradition. Chapí’s intelligent score is interpreted by Ortega with loving care; spot-on tempi, dynamic shadings and the lovely orchestral colours (reflected nicely by the lighting design) combine to lend bright realism to an eloquent electoral anthem. This King… gets my vote!
Second round, with another candidate
10th May, with the alternative cast. The great communicative skill of Julio Morales, who relies on a powerful physicality and a heterodox but very expressive singing style, made me view the title role very differently from the way I’d previously seen it. Zarzuela is a lyric theatre for actors who know how to sing, and when that happens the consummation is joyous. Eliana Bayón in spite of some stage stiffness combines very well with the King of her Heart. José Miguel Pérez-Sierra evokes some treasurable playing from the orchestra. Long life to the Raging King!
© Ignacio Jassa Haro
Reparto: El rey
– Jorge de León (20 April) / Julio Morales (10 May); Rosa –
Susana Cordón (20 April) / Eliana Bayón (10 May); María
– Amelia Font; El general –Luis Álvarez; Jeremías
– Emilio Sánchez; El almirante –Lorenzo Moncloa; El
intendente – Francisco Javier Jiménez; El gobernador –
Fernando Latorre; El capitán – Ismael Fritschi; Juan –
Emilio García Carretero; El alcalde – Celestino Varela; Paje
1º/Bailarín – Luis Romero; Lorenzo – Luis E.
González; Aldeano – Román Fernández Cañadas;
Aldeana – Ana Santamarina; Centinela/Paje 2º – Marcos Rivas;
Circus Artists; Ballet; Movement Group; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela
(Director – Antonio Fauró); Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid;
Conductor – Miquel Ortega (20 April) / José Miguel
Pérez-Sierra (10 May); Director – Luis Olmos; Designers –
Juan Sanz and Miguel Ángel Coso; Costumes – Pepe Corzo; Lighting
– Fernando Ayuste; Choreography – Michelle Man and Luis