The Teatro de la Zarzuela put on gala dress to celebrate a birthday which few theatres attain. On 10th October 1856 the drop curtain rose for the first time, since when the auditorium only went dark between 1909 and 1913 whilst being reconstructed after a fire that reduced it to ashes. Over 150 years performers, authors and composers, stage works and spectaculars of every kind have come and gone, never without attracting public interest and applause.
Throughout this century and a half of intense programming opera has had a significant presence (in early years generally in Spanish, in more recent times original languages preferred); likewise European operetta (much more regularly in Spanish, often in new adaptations); spoken theatre (native and foreign repertoire, especially French and Italian); variety and spectaculars of all sorts, featuring artistes from across the globe, but focussing on acts from France; cinema, circus, canción española, revue… altogether constituting a living museum of Spanish and European theatricality.
But the genre rooted in and most firmly connected with our auditorium has been of course Spain’s ópera cómica, vulgo zarzuela, for the culturing of which it was built in 1856 when the Romantic Zarzuela was new-born. A group of entrepreneurs with a beautiful dream risked everything to open a theatre to foster one of the forms of greatest personality and strength in the universal history of lyric theatre.
Little wonder then that the Teatro de la Zarzuela’s birthday celebrations centred on the genre from which it took its name. In two galas líricas a large band of Spanish and Hispano-American singers with strong connections to the theatre’s more or less recent history gave two varied programmes of vocal and orchestral excerpts from more than twenty zarzuelas – a tiny sampling of Spain’s unimaginably large heritage of lyric theatre, which amounts to more than eight thousand works conserved in the archives. The sample embraced the zarzuela grande of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the género chico, but without any leaves taken from Hispano-American or Philippine branches growing from the familiar Spanish tree.
About sixty percent of the material was common to both concerts, though sung by different soloists – a pity, since an occasion such as this was an ideal opportunity to present different programmes to showcase the repertoire to the maximum – with the whole under the scenic and musical direction of the two artists in charge of the house, Luis Olmos and Miguel Roa respectively. Olmos, along with his associates Juan Pedro de Gaspar and Juan Gómez-Cornejo, successfully created a diaphanous space through suggestive projections, plus set and lighting changes, that more than merely creating an atmosphere served as an artfully elegant and festive base for the varied romanzas and concertantes. Sensibly, given that there was no narrator, the titles of the well-known works being performed were projected onto the cyclorama, in the theatre’s own classic typography. Roa for his part gave the best of himself, inspiring the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid and Teatro de la Zarzuela Chorus to playing and singing of unusual force, fitting the varied requirements like so many musical gloves.
The projection of a diverting collage of images recalling the theatre’s history opened both concerts to accompany the inspired score of the preludio to Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente . From that comedic keynote flowed a hotchpotch of romanzas, dúos and concertantes from some of best known zarzuelas, a dozen or so fragments in each half of each concert. To list the names of all the singers involved would make for a long role call. Better to avoid tedium by detailing only the most interesting.
Concert I coincided with the anniversary date, so many of the country’s leading figures attended – King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, Minister of Culture Carmen Calvo for the Central Government, President of the Community of Madrid Esperanza Aguirre, and the Mayor of Madrid Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón – as well as numerous guests connected with the life of the theatre, from many branches of Spanish public life. Outstanding singers included Ana María Sánchez, a powerful yet sensitive Tempranica, in her romanza “ Sierras de Granada”; José Bros, with phrasing both personal and pristine in “Por el humo se sabe” from Doña Francisquita; María José Montiel, with intensely inward fervour in Socorro’s romanza from El barquillero; Juan Pons, in an exciting “Los cantos alegres de los zagales” from La del soto del Parral in which his great artistry triumphed over the vocal limitations of age; Verónica Villarroel, with an impressive canción española from El niño judío, where the singing was only a small part of the Chilean’s stage performance; and Manuel Lanza who in his powerful rendition of “Adiós, dijiste” from Maravilla [“The Wonder”] raised an equally powerful thought about the quantity of “wonders” that lie forgotten on the archive shelves. The first part closed with a powerful double finale: the concertante of the Act II final of Los gavilanes (showcasing the gorgeous timbre of Luis Dámaso and the huge theatrical presence of Ismael Pons), followed by the jota from La bruja (with an agile display in alt from Antonio Gandía), with an invaluably powerful contribution of the committed chorus common to both. Dámaso returned to join them for the gala’s conclusion, supporting Bros in the emotional canción de la juventud from Doña Francisquita, by extension a genuine song of hope for the future of the zarzuela.
Concert II three days later was a much warmer affair, being open to the general public, who filled the place to overflowing. Of the numbers already heard in the first gala several interpretations deserve special mention: the dúo “No hay que quitar los hilvanes…” from El barberillo de Lavapiés with the well-matched Amparo Navarro and Jesús Castejón, a strong Paloma and peerless Lamparilla; the romanza from La tempranica sung with forceful passion by eminent Cuban soprano Linda Mirabal; Wamba’s tango from El bateo mastered by the ubiquitous and indispensable Luis Álvarez; and the polonesa from El barbero de Sevilla interpreted with subtle virtuosity by the Mexican soprano Elena Rivero. In the numbers unique to this second event we ought to mention: Mar Abascal and Enrique Ruiz del Portal in the farruca from La del manojo de rosas, done with delectable wit by these charismatic comedy singers; Josefina Meneses’ chotis from La Gran Vía witnessed this veteran artist touched by the Gods; Felipe Bou in Simpson’s tango from La tabernera del puerto, from which he was able to conjure a chilling depth; Mariola Cantarero in a hectic interpretation of the carceleras from Las hijas del Zebedeo, where the orchestra so caught the Granada singer’s energy that the greatest triumph of the two nights was achieved; and finally Carlos Álvarez, who conferred with his romanzas “Junto al puente de la Peña…” from La canción del olvido and “Luche la fe por el triunfo…” from Luisa Fernanda – as well as in the solo from the significantly libertarian chorus from Bohemios which concluded the second concert – spectacular vocal benefits.
In conclusion, a footnote on the general feeling of the public towards these two concerts. And it was this: quite aside from the variable level of success achieved by this important list of singers; aside from the more or less effective selection of highlights; or of the form in which the concerts were presented as much musically as theatrically; yet still both nights proved memorable experiences, inasmuch as they provided a moving memory, and paid tribute to a theatre inextricably bound to a wonderful genre of music theatre which still boasts very many jewels worth the display.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2006
Programa y reparto:
Concert II (13 October