El rey que  rabió
El rey que rabió

Text • Miguel Ramos Carrión & Vital Aza
Music • Ruperto Chapí

Madrid, Teatro de la Zarzuela
(22 November and 20 December 2008)

Enrique Mejías García

The Critic who Raves!

Once again the king raves ... and once again I rave! Rave at once again smelling the scent of ignorance, the supine acuity of people who underestimate their audience. Rave again to run up against the small skill of a director who subjects the public to vulgarity of the most stupid naivety, paying lip service to a clapped-out Disney world that has nothing to do with zarzuela. El rey que rabió, I believe, is not the tale of Cinderella dressed up in a tasty score by Chapí. The joke of the palace-circus devised (?) by Luis Olmos for this Teatro de la Zarzuela production premiered in 2007 is too easy, as much for kids as silly as we fools who write. What already seemed to me a weak and tedious trickle has been watered down even further this Christmas, and like our famous turrón, has come back to give us indigestion for a whopping eight weeks. Perhaps Luis Olmos has come to believe that El rey que rabió is played out, not really supportive of any innovative twist. Perhaps I am wrong, and this staging will come over its eight weeks as one of the year’s four programmed zarzuelas to completely fill the theatre and self-heal itself, as did the same director’s La bruja. It’s a paltry beginning to Chapí Year in Jovellanos Street, however; a routine compromise which does not hold out great hope for the 2009-2010 season – as I'm always saying, when will we see La tempestad or La cara de Dios?

But in the end, El rey que rabió is ditched to get back to a “tale that never was” we’ve believed since we were children (rather retarded ones, for sure.) A child’s imagination is much more clever and daring than any adult’s, need we say. Through life we encounter children who think they're adults, but when you see the King sung by a tenor, beware of rotten meat! Let me speak clearly: The King is a soprano role, specifically a bonbon for tiples, just like Orestes in La Belle Hélène, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. First, the obvious musical point: it is simply ridiculous to hear the strangulated voice of a tenor navigating melodic lines designed for a soprano instrument, and destroying the subtle balance of Chapí’s ensembles. Second, theatrical necessity: Ramos Carrión has not simply told us the story of the Shepherd King who falls in love with his humble subject and makes her his queen, but tells how on a journey “in search of pleasure” (so José Luis Tellez puts it¹) he is pierced by love’s arrow from an equal, “one soprano reflected by another.” To go against this is to denature a work full of tricks and delicious winks to the 18th century (yes, Mozart and his Cherubino!!) and a particular symbiosis between zarzuela and the French operetta of Audran and Planquette mixed in with some Offenbachian comedy.

El rey que  rabió
Not just the dog which needs doctoring?

The excellent conductor Miquel Ortega, always careful to emphasize the thousand shades of an eloquent score, seems to be telling us not to believe that he is responsible for this sad decision. If there is someone to blame, it is perhaps the mistaken impudence of people such as the House Chronicler, Emilio García Carretero (the gracious host Juan in this production) who believe that “times have changed” and that “it is no longer necessary [my emphasis] in the theatre for a woman to disguise herself as a man in to show off her talents” (Historia del Teatro de la Zarzuela Vol. III, p. 90.) No comment. If the fact that Sagi-Vela recorded El rey que rabió for Hispavox in the 60s has led to the building of a false tradition of male interpretation of El rey que rabió, that is another story. Chapí always thought of his king as a soprano, Ramos Carrión even before that ... Da Ponte would never have written Cherubino for a tenor – and this is not a question of curves!

The Queens of this Rey que rabió, conceptually flawed though musically correct, were the much applauded Susana Cordón and Sonia de Munck. If the first was a gallant Rosa, the second stood out for having the fragility of a princess. Both had precise diction, even though the two should be more restrained in the deployment of a high register not always in the best of taste. What to say about Alejandro Roy’s King? His singing is not bad (we've seen and enjoyed him at one of the concerts this season) but he has decided to sing a role that is not his, in which his voice cannot flow and which he is not comfortable to act. In any case, we regret not being able to add anything about the interpretation of Julio Morales (King in the “b” cast) as he did not sing on either of the two days I saw the performance. Correct and assured performances, however, from Luis Álvarez as the General, Amelia Font as María, and the rest of the court ministers, Lorenzo Moncloa, Francisco J. Jiménez and Fernando Latorre. Special plaudits should go to Emilio Sánchez, a happily expressive Jeremiah who did not overplay the pathos. Somewhat histrionic, but frankly sympathetic, was Ismael Fritschi’s Capitán.

El Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela applied itself this time with notable success, under its master Antonio Fauró. La Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, as always, sounds as balanced and precise as its conductor dictates. I’ve already commented on Miguel Ortega’s commendable work, and José Miguel Pérez-Sierra remained within the bounds of discretion, not a note more or a note less. More pointed and comedic accentuation, more daring, evocative and personal, would be welcomed from a conductor still in his twenties.

© Enrique Mejías García 2009
translation © Christopher Webber 2009

¹José Luis Téllez: “Érase una vez”, in El rey que rabió. Madrid: INAEM-Teatro de la Zarzuela, 1997

El rey que rabioCast: El Rey – Alejandro Roy (22 November y 20 December)/ Julio Morales; Rosa – Susana Cordón (22 November)/ Sonia de Munck (20 December); 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; Artistas de circo; Ballet; Figuración; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (Chorus Master – Antonio Fauró); Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid; Conductor – José Miguel Pérez-Sierra (22 November)/ Miquel Ortega (20 December); Director – Luis Olmos; Designers – Juan Sanz y Miguel Ángel Coso; Costumes – Pepe Corzo; Lighting – Fernando Ayuste; Choreography – Michelle Man y Luis Olmos
Critical edition by Tomás Marco (Ediciones Iberautor, Promociones Culturales SRL/ICCMU, 1996)

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