La reina mora / Alma de Dios

Serrano - Hnos. Álvarez Quintero / Arniches and García Álvarez

Madrid, Teatro de la Zarzuela

(18 January 2013)

reviewed by

Poster for the 1922 film La reina mora directed by Jose Buchs, from the exhibition Cine y Zarzuela shown in the theatre's circle bar during performances of the double bill (Photo: Filmoteca Espaņola - Madrid)

Following those delicious ‘Oriental operettas’ El niño judío and El asombro de Damasco, and the tragic Leyenda del beso, Jesús Castejón has taken the género chico bull by the horns... and with great success! The director/actor cossets the genre that nursed him as a child using all the skill we know he possessed, with a small jewel of delight which – in the wrong hands – could have seemed tarnished and ridiculous. The challenge was a tough one, as it must be many years since the zarzuela stage on Calle Jovellanos presented two zarzuelas so different from each other, albeit by the same composer but with authors of such contrasting texts as the Quintero Brothers, and Arniches in collaboration on this occasion with García Álvarez.

The Farruca in Alma de Dios, Teatro de la Zarzuela 2013 (Photo: Fernando Marcos)

Certainly Castejón can distinguish lambs from rams, understanding that the sainete written by those most popular Brotherly purveyors of Andalusian Scenes has little to do with the dignified flesh-and-blood humanity that marks the lyric comedy of Arniches and García Álvarez. La reina mora – like the whole Quinteros output – is one of those texts impossible to “enhance”. Its magic lies in its silences. Trusting to let each word hit the right note without exceeding a goldsmith’s delicate scenic work is a gift that only a few, such as Jesús Castejón, possess. Artists of the quality of Miguel Caiceo or Charo Reina (to cite two character actors) are performers who, despite knowing precisely how to maximise their roles, don’t stick out from the other performers, thanks to stage direction sensitive to the need to contain any comedic tics or manias. This Reina Mora has no place for histrionics from the ridiculous Don Juan which Juanma Cifuentes makes his own in the light of such historical bufo comedians as Rossell and Carreras. You either love it or hate it. Besides the exquisite taste of the comedians, we should also applaud Aurora Frías’s most appealing Malagueñan – luxury casting – and Paco Ochoa’s absolutely brilliant Cotufa. Only a premiere division team like this could bring off the theatrics of the Quintero brothers.

Cesar San Martin y Cristina Faus en "La reina mora" (Serrano) - Teatro de la Zarzuela, 2013 (Foto: Fernando Marcos)If we were to add a small “but” to this production of La Reina Mora perhaps it would be the lack of visual appeal deriving from a single setting, which makes the long-awaited jail scene confusing and hard to understand. The disappearance of the character of the Prison Clark means we can’t follow the complex reasons for Coral’s incarceration. Still, we can’t deny the flexile beauty of the choreography and the lighting of a set which as I’ve said needed greater solidity. Cristina Faus and César San Martín sang the love duet with poise, but without the verve displayed by the night’s other triller, Ruth González. Her creation of the Birdseller Boy was – hand on heart – electrifyingly moving.

And what about Alma de Dios? Certainly the most popular comedy of its time – with over 700 performances to its name – has been given the treatment by Castejón’s team. Ricardo Sánchez-Cuerda’s four sets are a hyper-realistic joy. This Alma de Dios has moved into the Madrid suburbs of the 60’s or 80’s of the twentieth century, with an Almodóvarian aroma which certainly sits well with the text. Consequently Jesús Ruiz’s costume oscillates stylistically between ye-yé and the kitsch concessions of guatiné. It’s modern and moth-eaten, just as Madrid was fifty years ago.

Seguidillas with Jesus Castejon in the third scene of Alma de Dios, Teatro de la Zarzuela 2013 (Photo: Fernando Marcos)

As expected the high artistic level of La reina mora is maintained by Alma de Dios. García Álvarez’s puns and the moralising sentimentality of Arniches don’t grate on our ears, through the most natural acting of performers such as Cristina Marcos (superb as Ezequiela) and Castejón himself as Señor Matías. The roll call of actors involved is long, so suffice it to mention Joaquín Climent as Señor Adrián, the Saturiano of Alfredo Alba, Jesús Alcaide’s Priest and the young Ainhoa Aldanondo’s Irene. We should mention in passing the presence of Manuela Velasco as Eloísa, the Spanish zombie diva gracing (temporarily?) the zarzuela. Last, not least, we should single out the Hungarian song done with such gusto and emotion by Alejandro Roy. The standing ovation was strangely not granted an encore.

Cristina Marcos and other members of the cast of Alma de Dios, Teatro de la Zarzuela 2013 (Photo: Fernando Marcos)

Musical direction of this double Serrano bill is under José María Moreno. Sounding discreet – though never scrawny – we might nevertheless expect an Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid to display a better attitude. From too many seats you might observe the goings-on of mobile phones, yawning and classroom reading during the dialogue. Behave seriously, orchestral professors.

Following the previous double bill of La mala sombra and El mal de amores and last year’s sainete-revue El trust de los tenorios last year, Teatro de la Zarzuela has once again shown José Serrano to be one of the greats. His scores – whether monumental, such as La Reina Mora, or spirited with the lightness of Alma de Dios – always work, and thrill us. More Serrano, please!

© Miccone, 2013
tr. © Christopher Webber 2013

Programme for La reina mora / Alma de Dios (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2013)

La reina mora (Sainete in three scenes by Serafín and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero, music by José Serrano) / Alma de Dios (lyric comedy of popular customs in one act and three scenes by Carlos Arniches and Enrique García Álvarez, music by José Serrano)

Critical editions by José Miguel Pérez Sierra –La reina mora– (Ediciones Musicales Autor - Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2012) and Cristóbal Soler –Alma de Dios– (Arteria Promociones Culturales SRL - ICCMU, 2010)

Cast La reina mora: Cristina Faus (Coral), Miguel Caiceo (Miguel Ángel), Aurora Frías (Mercedes), Charo Reina (Doña Juana la Loca), Sonia Castilla (Laura), Amara Carmona (Isabelita), Esther Ruiz (Costurera), Juanma Cifuentes (Don Nuez), Paco Ochoa (Cotufa), Ruth González (El niño de los pájaros), César San Martín (Esteban), Daniel Huerta (Preso 1º), Román Fernández-Cañadas (Preso 2º), Francisco José Pardo (Preso 3º), David Tavares y José Antonio Camacho «Piripi» (Guitarristas).

Alma de Dios: Jesús Castejón (Señor Matías), Cristina Serrato (Balbina), Alfredo Alba (Saturiano), Cristina Marcos (Ezequiela), Manuela Velasco (Eloísa), Albert López-Murtra (Agustín), Juan Viadas (Señor Orencio), Jesús Alcaide (Un sacerdote), Encarna Piedrabuena (Doña Tadea), Esther Ruiz (Doña Gaspara), Joaquín Climent (Señor Adrián), Tomás Pozzi (Pelegrín), Ainhoa Aldanondo (Irene), Amelia Font (Señá Marcelina), Cristina Faus (María Carmen), Juanma Cifuentes (Tío Zuro), Amara Carmona (Señá Rosa la Quemá), Aurora Frías (Sunsión), Miguel Caiceo (Pepe el Liso), Alejandro Roy (Un húngaro), Paco Ochoa (Niño Jesús).

Jesús Castejón (dir.), Ricardo Sánchez-Cuerda (designer), Jesús Ruiz (costumes), Juan Gómez-Cornejo (lighting), Nuria Castejón (choreography), Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (dir. Antonio Fauró), Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, José María Moreno (c.)

en español
 José Serrano
 Alma de Dios