Don Gil de Alcalá
by Manuel Penella
Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid

6th November 1999

A brief report from Pedro Gómez ...

This year's revival of Don Gil de Alcalá presents the same production that was seen in the Centro Cultural de Madrid four or five years ago, itself a revival of the Teatro de la Zarzuela production of 1989.

This production is very remarkable - the scenery takes the form of paintings. Director Carlos Fernández de Castro Fernandez Shaw (two important surnames!) explained that he wanted to present the zarzuela - which is set in the 18th Century with musical pastiche to match - as a series of Velazquez paintings. This idea is followed through beautifully. When the curtain opens, each scene begins as a tableau-portrait, inside a picture frame. The decor is simple, but the lighting is subtle, complex and effective. The spectacular and richly coloured customs are also in 18th Century mode.

The chorus sang well, the orchestra - string instruments only in Penella's score, recalling 18th Century practice - was neatly conducted by Jose Luis Temes. Helena Gallardo in the central role of Niña Estrella is a young singer, still only 22, whose vocal and performing skills are improving with each season. The tenor Jorge Elías in the title role of Don Gil de Alcalá is also very young, with a vibrant, fresh and distinctive voice. Ismael Pons, as Don Gil's baritone rival Don Diego, was in firm voice but leaves something to be desired as as an actor. There were good performances from Luis Álvarez (Cascarrilla), Amalia Barrio (Maya), Manuel de Diego (Chamaco), Emilio Carretero, Alberto Arrabal, Luisa Maeso and Ismael Abellan. The veteran comedian Pepín Salvador is a very fine actor with a lot of experience, and his performance was a key to the success of the evening. The audience was enthusiastic, particularly for el jarabe, the habanera "Las mañanitas" and the Brindis - a paeon to jerez wine!

© Pedro Gómez Manzanares 1999

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