Los sobrinos del capitan Grant (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2006, c. Jesus Alcantara)

Los sobrinos del capitán Grant
Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid - December 2006
Enrique Mejías García

Like the children of 1877...

Sunday 28th December 1913 promised, as every year, a special bill of fare for Holy Innocents at Madrid’s Teatro Apolo. This was the programme with which the spectators who dropped by “c´Alcalá” were regaled:

1st part (double entry fee):
* El día de Reyes (zarzuela de Moncayo y música de Penella)
* La Catedral (second scene - by Larra and Fernández de la Puente with music by Gerónimo Giménez and Foglietti)
* Miguel Lamas as The Drunkard
* Magic Divinations, with Isidro Sotillo and Valeriano León
* Mercedes Salas singing La Mariposa
* Performance by the famous rifleman and pistoleer Mr. Lamas
* Madame Ontiveros in her character “The despairing authoress”
* “French Couplets” with Carmen de Andrés
* Grand Bullfight in the charge of Ontiveros, Lamas, León, Ibarrola y Fernández

2ª section (double entry fee)
* Los Sobrinos del Capitán Grant

36 years after its premiere, at a time when varietés and opereta dominated Madrid’s theatres, Captain Grant’s eternally youthful Nephews were still served up as the main dish in this generous Theatrical Feast for the Innocents. The condor still flew with Doctor Mirabel between its claws, the Chilean women blew smoke rings with their cigarettes whilst singing “It’s my pleasure, it’s my pleasure”, and Mochila was still lamenting because he’d had to retire from the army… Amorous couples in the gallery paid 1.20 pesetas; fathers with their children in the stage boxes shelled out nearly 23; long-haired artists could get Standing Room tickets for a couple of reales; all still laughed and thrilled 36 years on, jumping out of their seats at the gauchos’ fusilades, feeling terror in the face of the voracious crocodiles and the Maori shouts of “¡degolliquí!”.

The world has kept on turning - such is la eterna canción! - but as if by magic, for yet another year Fernández Caballero and Ramos Carrión have done the impossible. When the houselights dim and the brilliant Preludio to Los sobrinos begins, we return straight from the Teatro de la Zarzuela to the old Príncipe Alfonso theatre in the Paseo de Recoletos of 1877. Again embarking on The Scotland, we live through an earthquake, we dance at the bottom of the sea and face up to Jaime and his fearsome band of filibusteros – all of us, great and small, eternally young for this three-hours’ spectacle.

Los sobrinos del capitan Grant (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2006, c. Jesus Alcantara)

What pleasure, that another Christmastime sees our six ill-assorted adventurers back in Calle Jovellanos, showing once again how easy it is to do things with imagination and without pretension. To entertain, amuse, make us laugh, make us tremble… Paco Mir knows plenty about theatre, as the second revival of his production of this novela cómico-lírico-dramática in four acts and eighteen scenes shows. New gags, a general overhaul of the staging and a sense of freshness (that above all) – humour, over-the-top wit and a sense of wanting to please the audience: which shows its approval, day after day, with loud and hearty applause.

Los sobrinos del capitan Grant
Los sobrinos del capitan Grant

What can be said about the cast? … all are fabulous and full of energy. Millán Salcedo is, again, the ideal Mochila; Milagros Martín, the unquestionable First Lady of Teatro de la Zarzuela; María Rey-Joly, simply delicious; Fernando Conde, a lovably wild Doctor Mirabel; Xavi Mira, a graceful simpleton of an Escolástico; and Richard Collins-Moore embroiders the role of Sir Clyron with tipsy swagger. Eliel Carvalho is not, for this writer, the ideal Jaime musically but, nevertheless, he is convincingly piratical enough in his spoken dialogue (which is most of the role, excepting the single and gorgeous romanza of the work, “Ya que ingrata la fortuna”.

The Teatro de la Zarzuela chorus fulfil all demands and enjoy their work, no doubt; nevertheless in some numbers, such as the habanera for the Chilean lady-smokers or the barcarola marinera, one can’t help feeling that the coming of old age for most of its members will with time be opening the way to new faces… and nubile young legs. The Comunidad de Madrid orchestra under Miguel Roa knows the score well and knows how to bring forth the special qualities hidden between its hieroglyphs. Particularly polished musically are Mochila’s raconto, the Chilean zamacueca, cheery pasodoble and chorus of anthropophagi.

129 years have passed since the 1877 premiere; and from 1913,   precisely 93… and yet, what strange magic still surrounds this work? What makes us return to our childhood and stops time when we travel with the Captain Grant’s nephews? Ah, the Mystery of Theatre! Whilst wishing for a too-long delayed complete recording of the score, congratulations on this revival and hopes for many others – very many – so that in another 130 years the audience will still be leaving the Teatro de la Zarzuela singing:

There’s no greater pleasure
Than sailing the seas
This earth holds no treasure
Much sweeter than these.

© Enrique Mejías García, 2006

Millán Salcedo (Mochila); Milagros Martín (Soledad); Xavi Mira (Escolástico); Fernando Conde (Dr. Mirabel); Richard Collins-Moore (Sir Clyron); María Rey-Joly (Miss Ketty); Eliel Carvalho (Jaime); Ballet, actors y movement group; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela; Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid; Jon Berrondo (Designer); Anna Güell (Costumes); Eduardo Bravo (Lighting); Rosa María Grau (Choreography); Paco Mir (Director); Miguel Roa (Conductor)

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