Bretón de la Vega (ad.
New stage - new hope
After a long although understandable delay, the Comunidad de Madrid has finally opened the Teatro Auditorio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, with a Festival programme in which instrumental and theatre music go hand in hand. There’s no denying the programmers’ good taste and acumen in choice of stage works and concert repertoire. They’ve set the bar very high and have set themselves a stiff task if they are not to fall short of their audience’s expectations.
Is this first Festival de San Lorenzo del Escorial a declaration of intent? Let’s hope so. From Die Zauberflöte to Siegfried ... from Monteverdi to La verbena de la Paloma. Zarzuela fans should hasten to the Auditorio, with the thought that it is not chance that this first Festival has programmed such a classic of the genre as La verbena with this really innovative staging concept, executed with unquestionable quality, which will not leave anyone indifferent. Let us hope that all the effort expended and investments poured into the creation of this splendid Auditorio don’t turn to ashes in the mouth.
A verbena without prejudice
For this first Festival, unreservedly – and unlike so many run-of-the-mill Spanish summer festivals – El Escorial puts its faith in zarzuela. Zarzuela without prejudice, without preconceived ideas, and with a view to an audience which simply demands enjoyment when it goes to the theatre to hear and see “one more time” the immortal work of Maestro Bretón ... but not as we know it!
Marina Bollaín designed this staging for Berlin’s Hebbel-Theater in 2002, for a city without previous knowledge of zarzuela and where part of the audience could not be in the position, as has happened at El Escorial, of clinging to outworn values such as: “it’s a return to the Spanish dark ages” or “it’s destroyed the historical characters”. Felipe II or Martin Luther are historical characters. La Señá Rita and Julián, not.
We madrileños who go year after year to the August verbenas (i.e. San Cayetano, San Lorenzo and Our Lady of La Paloma) have had the joyous sensation of seeing on stage Madrid’s fiestas as they are celebrated nowadays. The verbena which we will celebrate in two weeks’ time is the verbena we admired yesterday in the theatre. To further this aim of promoting that contemporary spirit which is the essence of género chico, the projection of a video was brought to bear during the interval, in which sequences from the 2001 Fiesta of la Paloma were projected whilst the orchestra played the energetic pasodoble from Torroba’s Maria Manuela... music purely in the genuine “Chueca” style.
Amongst the performers the two baritones shone luminously: José Antonio López as Julián and David Rubiera as Don Hilarión. The first launched his very first phrase (“unos ríen y otros lloran de verdad” - “some laugh and others cry deeply”) with a manly, robust voice of serious resonance. The second, a Hilarión who might pass for a thirty year old shop-boy on the razzle, sang most stylishly, outlining the sensual druggist with a beautiful voice quite outside the norm for such a hackneyed character. Of the fairer sex Amparo Navarro was an accurate and sexy Susana, María José Suárez a fair Casta but better as the very good flamenco cantaora, whilst Marina Pardo’s Señá Rita was more convincingly acted than sung.
Coming to the supporting players Federico Gallar made a more manly Tía Antonia than we’ve heard before, and charmed the audience with a beautiful habanera sung in Catalan. Nuria Castejón danced as only she can the soleá of the second scene and an interpolated soleares with piano accompaniment. Cristina Luar was Doña Severiana, this time not the silly comedic wife of Don Sebastián, but as a well-known singer from the barrio. At the culminating verbena she performed, much to our surprise, a rumba, “La Bomba” and the Cuban bolero “Dos gardenias para ti”, extending that naturalistic practice that Bretón indicated when he asked for those “organillo pieces” which we hear in the dance scene. The Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid played with unusual brio, especially in the interval pasodoble, and the chorus did its bit, moving in and out of the scene and interacting with the main characters who give life to the plot.
With productions in this style, devised for spectators without preconceptions, one sees youthful, modern realisations of the universal stories told us by the género chico. Within two weeks, in the verbena of la Paloma 2006 we can be certain that in a corner of the barrio of la Latina there will be a Susana hoping for a Hilarión to invite her to dance, while in the opposite corner there will be a desperate and tearful Julián who will complain between his teeth to his godmother that “everyone in this town has a heart small as hers”. Here’s an invitation to everyone reading these lines to come to Madrid, to look around her streets and to experience, along with everyone else, that fabulous sensation which along with la eterna zarzuela is part of the life of this city.
© Enrique Mejías García
Noche de verano en la
verbena de la Paloma , zarzuela in one act. Music: Tomás
Bretón; text: Ricardo de la Vega (adapted by Marina