Teatro de la
On paper this looked an unlikely double bill… a frivolous madrileño revue having its first revival for decades, spatchcocked to one of the most serious, one-act zarzuelas of Andalusian peasant life. Both admittedly, penned by the great sainetero Carlos Arniches... Nonetheless, my mood at curtain up was more curious than expectant.
Most people who know anything about zarzuela know one number and one alone from El Trust de los Tenorios (‘The Ladykillers’ Club’, 1910) and that’s the brief Jota sung by an Aragonese tenor during an incongruously international Venetian Carnival. Most thrilling it is too in the theatre, delivered with ringing aplomb by Julio Morales and worthy of an encore which was demanded but (sadly) not delivered. How fascinating it was to see this forgotten sainete-revista in toto. The slight, and slightly naughty plot – such as it is – sees the Chairman of the Club hurtling around the world with his wife in tow, to save her from seduction by a vengeful fellow member. This is a pretext for a series of faintly erotic and wholly engaging divertissements nominally set in Paris, Venice … and an Orient oddly compounded of the India of Lakmé, the Egypt of Aida and a kind of El rastro Arabia.
José Serrano provides us with a generous string of little pearls, including a catchy Tarantella, a Hungarian Dance and a Yankee Baile Inglés (in Paris); a Viennese waltz, that Aragonese jota and a chorus of Argentinian ‘huntresses’ (in Venice); and some faintly pentatonic rituals, songs and dances for the Oriental Finale. There isn’t a dud number, and apart from “that jota” one in particular – for the Argentinian nymphets – stands out as being beautiful and delicately lovely, a touching taste of the “mature” Serrano to come in such later masterworks as La canción del olvido and Los claveles.
The production was a satisfactory enough mix of projections and furniture to show off the array of glitzy costumes and choreography, which were – with the music – what the show was all about. I loved every minute, and the sense of enthusiasm from both sides of the house combined to make for one of those blissfully kitsch hours which only zarzuela can provide. I must mention María Elena García’s mellifluously lissom contribution as soloist in the big numbers for the Argentine and Indian Girls, not least because (mystifyingly) the programme hadn’t found room for her biography. Let’s wish this sweet-toned, young soprano well.
With the first major revival of El puñao de rosas (1902) in most people’s theatre-going memory, the evening changed key, from the merely (?) joyous to something memorable and, I think, important. Important, because this beautifully prepared production gave the lie to the old, received academic wisdom that Spanish Opera somehow starts and ends in 1913 with Falla’s La vida breve. Its Andalusian costumbres and strongly realistic portrayal of the hard, ugly hopelessness of peasant life, its plot based on the attempted seduction of a peasant girl by the feckless señorito (the local landowner’s son), its gypsy inflections of both speech and music, all these make El puñao de rosas – like Giménez epochal La tempranica from two years earlier – an unmistakable avatar of Falla’s masterpiece.
Ruperto Chapí did not have had the fiery genius of Falla. What he did have was taste, technique, a melodic gift to rival Massenet or Mascagni, structural and harmonic ingenuity – and most important of all a mastery of theatre beyond anything the young Falla, for all his musical potency, could muster until much later in his creative life. Two deep and fluid dúos for the heroine Rosario, with her señorito and the hunchbacked, slow witted village Quasimodo she sets up as cover for the affair, show Chapí at his most adventurous and absorbing. The on- and offstage choral vignettes are intensely memorable (Cavalleria Rusticana comes to mind quite often, not least in the melodic pattern of Rosario’s leading motif, which recalls Santuzza’s). There are several moments which inhabit the same muscular, hot-hard sound world of the Falla of La vida breve or El amor brujo. One moment in particular is strikingly prescient, for example, of Falla’s Voice from the Forge: as the luckless Tarugo realises how he has been duped we hear the offstage lament of a Muleteer: “¡Malhaya tu suerte perra! Siempre solo y siempre andando por atajos y veredas” (“Cursed be your dog’s luck! Always alone and always going on by-roads and side-roads”). Nobody dies, but in its way Chapí and Arniches’s rural tragedy is as final and devastating as Fernández Shaw’s for Falla.
Rosario is a less passive and more intelligent victim than Salud, drawn to the possibility of a life outside her class cage without ever quite believing in it; and Carmen Romeu (who recently sang a Fiordiligi in Rome) deploys her burnished, full soprano and considerable acting talent to create a moving portrayal. The ever-excellent Marco Moncloa is in full baritonal cry too as the señorito; whilst Julio Morales makes the brutal, put-upon Tarugo both touching and sinister. It was a fine idea of Chapí’s to make this, rather than the suave lover, the tenor role. There’s lithe thespian, vocal and choreographic support too from Aurora Frías as Carmen.
The simple revolve-set gives us a stony peasant hut and an even stonier mountain path, which is all we need. The care which Luis Olmos has put into his final production as Director of the Theatre extends to scrupulous, sensitive direction of the Andalusian dialogue scenes and detailed character acting throughout. There’s absolutely no sense that we’re marking time for the next musical number to start, which considering that this dialogue is by Carlos Arniches and of very high quality, is right and proper. I’ve never heard the house orchestra play better than they do here for Cristóbal Soler, whose tempi are perfect and whose beat is both as authoritative and as flexible as it should be. The new music director is going to be a great asset to La Zarzuela. I’m not ashamed tell you, quite predictably, that the Theatre’s Chorus work is every bit as thrilling and precise as we’ve come to expect during Antonio Fauró’s tenure.
I’ve been surprised, delighted and moved by many Teatro de la Zarzuela productions down the years, but rarely so deeply as by this one. What looked on paper rather incongruous – an early bit of Serrano fluff famous for one, brief tenor showpiece, yoked to a Chapí verismo tragedy which though celebrated has rarely been staged in living memory – turned out in practice to be a triumph. Zarzuela exists suspended between two poles of charming frivolity and deep tragedy, but it’s highly unusual to find its North and South juxtaposed so bluntly, or so memorably as this.
© Christopher Webber 2011
El Trust de los Tenorios. Cast: RANDILLA
Juan Viadas; CABRERA Cipriano Lodosa; SABOYA José Luis Patiño;
ISABEL Concha Delgado; ARTURO / BATURRO Julio Morales; EL MAÎTRE
DHOTEL Luis Romero; UNA CUPLETISTA / Carmen Romeu; VENECIANA 1ª/YON
GÜELL Daniel Huerta; YANSEN Alberto Ríos; BRUCTON Román
Fernández-Cañadas; CAMARERA 1ª Sonia Castilla; CAMARERA
2ª Encarna Piedrabuena; LA BELLA CUCÚ Virginia Flores; CAZADORA
ARGENTINA / DONCELLA INDIA Mª Elena García; VENECIANA 2º
Begoña Navarro; VENECIANA 3º Ana Mª Ramos; SIRKA Iván
Luís; RAMA-KANA Graciela Moncloa; GUARDIA / CAMARERO / MÁSCARA
1ª Roberto Da Silva; PASTOR PROTESTANTE / MÁSCARA Luis E.
González; MOZO /CABALLERO / MÁSCARA David Martín; VIAJERO
/ CABALLERO / GONDOLERO José Antonio Cobián; FIGURACIÓN
Sonia Castilla, José Antonio Cobián, Roberto Da Silva, Luis E.
González, David Martín, Encarna Piedrabuena