La del Soto del Parral has returned to the Teatro de la Zarzuela in a new production, not very long after its previous appearance in 2000, such is the popularity of Soutullo and Vert’s 1927 work. This time, the director was Amelia Ochandiano, who is known principally as a dancer and choreographer. The production used an edition of the score under the supervision of musicologist Xavier de Paz.
There is a lot of history involving the original, which received no less than three premières, in different versions. The complicated genesis of this work is explained in the programme note by our distinguished Madrid Editor, Ignacio Jassa Haro. The work more or less as we know it today was first seen at the La Latina Theatre in Madrid (26 October 1927), after two previous versions with different titles in Barcelona and Valencia. It then was revived at two more Madrid theatres, the Apolo and the Fuencarral.
The result was the Segovian-landscaped zarzuela we know today, with or without the famous tenor aria, “Fuerza que me vence”, which many know independently from concerts and recordings, originally written for Soutullo y Vert’s El último romántico in the following year. It was included here – it almost has to be to satisfy the demanding public.
The Girl from the Arbour in the Parral, with a libretto by Sevilla and Carreño, has a plot that contains a romantic misunderstanding between a farmer and his wife, Germán and Aurora, complicated by the appearance of the son of the landowner, Miguel. (Angelita, the romantic cause of these problems, never appears in the zarzuela.) Further intrigues are provided by two meddling old men, one a good-natured quack (Tío Sabino) and the other a nosy, would-be poet (Tío Prudencio).
The zarzuela is very much in the 1920s’ mode of a setting in a particular regional location (many of the songs directly praise Segovia), with several numbers that smack of the ’20s in style and orchestration. It may not seem as provincially distinctive as a work by Guridi, for example, but it does have the good fortune to become more dramatic and comic as it goes into the last two scenes.
But La del Soto del Parral, thanks to the rich score by Soutullo and Vert, manages inject some of the proceedings with an almost verismo feeling. A duet in Act II for the farmer and his wife is a long, moving, and lovely piece. Certain choruses and comic duets are standard issue, like the opening number, but then a more arresting chorus will appear, like the one at the end of Act I where the ladies and gentlemen appear with flowers and scythes. Another thrilling moment with the chorus comes during the well-wrought and quite dramatic Act II finale.
The famous baritone romanza at the beginning of the work, in which Germán longs for the good old days (“Los cantos alegres”) was well-sung by Juan Jesús Rodríguez in the cast I saw, but the song was punctuated for some reason by thunder, lightning and a realistic rain shower. Further divertissements included a saucy number at the beginning of the second act in which Tío Sabino “examines” a bevy of farmgirls dressed in pastel undergarments, which looked like a sort of 1920s’ revue version of “Out of My Dreams” from Oklahoma!. (This number was added to the third version of the zarzuela.) Oddest of all were the naked male legs kicking out of the ground from a trough to accompany the falling autumn leaves during the intermedio before the third scene.
That kind of choreographic touch mystified many, but Ms. Ochandiano redeemed herself with the wonderful country dances at the end of the work that brought the Segovian countryside vividly to life, assisted by the earth tones of Pedro Moreno’s costumes. A sloping set by Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda covered with astroturf did suggest the country, replete with storm cellars, but the background – except for a saint-adorned carillon – seemed to be a merely a sketch of black hills. There was otherwise a lot up-and-down action, fences turning into cottages and landscapes becoming roofs – unnecessary, but pleasant enough.
The rest of the cast included Ana Ibarra (Aurora) and Antonio Gandía (Miguel) singing very well indeed, and Aurora Frías and Didier Otaola acquitting themselves admirably as the comics. Conductor Rubén Gimeno made the orchestra glisten, and the audience enjoyed the zarzuela thoroughly, once it got going. Those who dislike the excesses at the Zarzuela of directors like Calixto Bieito would no doubt find this production very soothing.
© Richard Traubner 2010
La del Soto del
Parral (Music: Reveriano Soutullo and Juan Vert; text: Luis
Fernández de Sevilla y Anselmo Cuadrado
12th December 2010