Chueca and Bretón
Quarrying género chico

La verbena de la Paloma

Los descamisados / La verbena de la Paloma
Ópera Cómica de Madrid
Centro Cultural de la Villa

(Madrid, 8 June 2007)

Enrique Mejías García

Summer comes to Madrid. Terraces, parks, streets and plazas… everything brightens up, and the joy radiating from género chico permeates every corner of a city which – being quintessentially European – always displays much of that astrakhan-wrapped air proper to the sainete. Now Madrid does not look for the gravity of a Tabernera or the romanticism of Jugar con fuego. It is the time for laughter, for dancing and short pants. One perhaps dares to remove his cap, and more than one her mantón de Manila. In any case it is the turn of the teatro breve, chotis, the pasodoble and mazurca; of a theatre that without any pretence of transcendental status has managed like few others to stay alive, spontaneous and youthful as it marches into the 21st century. Could Arniches, López Silva or Jackson Veyán have imagined such a thing?

But this doesn’t happen as a matter of course. Let’s be clear: not everything in género chico has value. And Ópera Cómica de Madrid knows and understands this, as they return to the Centro Cultural de la Villa for the third consecutive year, offering us a Spring Season of short-piece double bills. Their tricks of the trade are as ever: a first-rate artistic team; generous rehearsal time; and design concepts that normally avoid the “traditional”, offering us new approaches and ways-in to works too often freighted with excessive topicalities and anti-theatrical absurdity.

Los descamisados

With the restlessness that characterizes them, too, the Ópera Cómica team has continued its business of reviving forgotten titles. Together with the ever-effective and box-office worthy Verbena de la Paloma they’ve programmed a new and different piece of Chueca: Los descamisados (“The Shirtless Ones”), a sainete full of grace, political point, and with music we’d only find from the Madrid master – cheerful, sparkling, overflowing with inspiration. On this occasion Francisco Matilla has come up with a philological reading for both sainetes, full of realism and humanity. In the case of the Chueca you can almost smell the sawdust of the carpentry shop where the action passes. The vision of the Bretón piece was, if possible, still more naturalistic, very “authentic” in evoking a suburban emptiness very far removed from the romantic stamp usually employed to mount Ricardo de la Vega’s legendary sainete.

La verbena de la Paloma

Deliberate or not, the beauty of Mariana Mara’s costume designs compensates for this “scenic poverty”, although we might justly lament the antiquated quality of Centro Cultural de la Villa’s lighting equipment, the dim and patchy coverage of which does not allow the staging to shine with greater clarity. Madrid City Councillors, when are you going to improve the facilities?

Cifuentes / Moreno - Los descamisados

Coming to the actor-singers, we have two almost emblematic figures in Marta Moreno and Juan Manuel Cifuentes. The former, exquisite in the Chueca and “huge” as Aunt Antonia in La verbena. Cifuentes, more restrained than he sometimes is, bore the brunt in Los descamisados and came back to present the character of Don Hilarión with greater success than in last season’s production at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. How unforgettable to review the most delicious gavotte-chotis dúo they performed for us in the Chueca. That’s how to perform género chico!

Of the others involved in La verbena de la Paloma we should mention Enrique Ferrer’s Julián, Francesca Calero’s Susana and the S eñá Rita of Lola Casariego, simple perfection. In Los descamisados Javier Ibarz’s Sandalio is very commendable, Enrique Ferrer as a hilarious Florito and the appearance of new tiple as young, handsome and gorgeous of voice as Saioa Hernandez, Silvina in the Chueca and Casta (no blonde, by the way) in the Bretón. A final mention for the antics of Javier Ferrer, Juan Manuel Velasco and Paco Sanchez Marín - what a bunch! - in the mazurca de los socialistas.

The Ensamble Instrumental de Madrid sounded well, and was correctly conducted by Cristóbal Soler – from whom one might nevertheless have expected greater elan and vivacity at times in Los descamisados. Good direction, though, in a Verbena that had almost icy point in the soleá, sung with precise effect from the interior of the Melilla Café. Ópera Cómica de Madrid’s chorus were perfectly well drilled.

There’s little more to add. Shortly Ópera Cómica will bring out their production of that most interesting double bill,Emigrantes (Barrera and Calleja) coupled with La señora Capitana (Barrera and Quinito Valverde). Finally these two works, for so many years unheard in “Court and City”, make it back to Madrid. Learn from this model, this way of working, you host of companies which still think that to mount género chico you must keep returning to a Madrid that never existed, and is so far removed from the aesthetic expectations of today’s informed public, a public so full of interest when something “new” is offered to it. Speaking for myself, seeing things this good I’m off to remove my shirt and high-tail it to the verbena of la Paloma.

© Enrique Mejías García, 2007

Los descamisados. Cast: Sandalio - Javier Ibarz, Pérez - Juan Manuel Cifuentes, Florito ­- Enrique Ferrer, El Pelao - Javier Ferrer, El Colorao - Juan Manuel Velasco, El Chaval - Paco Sánchez Marín, Eulogia - Marta Moreno, Silvina - Saioa Hernández. La verbena de la Paloma. Cast: Don Hilarión - Juan Manuel Cifuentes, Don Sebastián - Javier Ibarz, Julián - Enrique Ferrer, Señá Rita - Lola Casariego, Susana - Francesca Calero, Casta - Saioa Hernández, Tía Antonia - Marta Molero, El Tabernero - Javier Ibarz, El sereno - Carmelo Peña, Doña Severiana - Beatriz de Urbina, Mariquita - Elena Ramos, Guardia1 - Carlos Fernández, Guardia 2 - José Manuel Velasco, Mozo 1 - Paco Sánchez Marín, Mozo 2 - Didier Otaol. Ballet de Concerto XXI, Coro de Ópera Cómica de Madrid, Ensamble Instrumental de Madrid, Cristóbal Soler (c.), Francisco Matilla (d. / design), Mariana Mara (costumes), Marco Berriel (choreography), Pedro Pablo Melendo (lighting)

Emigrantes y La señora capitana
Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid, 1 de julio de 2007

The zarzuela season at Centro Cultural de la Villa finished with that most absorbing double bill, Emigrantes coupled with La señora Capitana, in a revival of Ópera Cómica de Madrid’s production reviewed by my colleague Ignacio Jassa Haro in November 2003, when it was mounted in Jerez at the Teatro Villamarta. As someone who hadn’t seen these rarely staged pieces on stage before I can’t let the revival pass without comment.

La verbena de la paloma

Artistically it comes close to perfection, to the audience’s overwhelming pleasure. A good mention again (how not!) for Juan Manuel Cifuentes, as much in the melodramatic Emigrantes as in the spirited and oh-so-charming Señora Capitana. In this latter Lola Casariego was a perfectly delicious Nicolasa, voicing her entrance cuplés with sonorous and even tone. In the chotis-tempo comedy dúo both artists captivated a public which knows that this is the right way to play género chico. We shouldn’t omit Marta Moreno, an impeccable Josefina; or the sexy and vocally alluring Ruth Del Aria. In Emigrantes there’s a great Basque zortzico from Ellier Muñoz. The only caveat to all this praise is the lack of brilliance which the orchestra imparts to such a light score as La señora Capitana. In Emigrantes, however, the effect was much more finished and precise.


Emigrantes , lyric scene in one act by Pablo Cases, music by Tomás Barrera and Rafael Calleja.Cast: Juan Manuel Cifuentes – Tordiyo; Ruth Del Aria – Loliya; Carmelo Peña – Bermejo; Javier Ibarz – Arturo; Ellier Muñoz – Un vascongado; Enrique Ferrer – Marinero. La señora capitana, lyric comedy in one act by José Jackson Veyán, Music by Tomás Barrera and Joaquín Valverde Sanjuán. Cast: Lola Casariego – Nicolasa; Marta Moreno – Josefina; Ruth Del Aria – Delfina; Rubiales – Juan Manuel Cifuentes; Javier Ibarz – Napoleón; Enrique Ferrer – Lobo; Carmelo Peña – Bravo; Ellier Muñoz – El vizconde. Francisco Matilla (d.), Carlos Cuesta (c.)

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