The House of the Spirits
All those national opera projects promoted by Spanish composers from the 1840s to the time of this Tabaré (premiered at Teatro Real in 1913) have the same despotic character: tout pour le peuple, rien par le peuple; or in other words: all for the sake of national opera... but without the nation really being interested. Give me, dear reader, a single title premiered as ‘opera’ in Spain between Jugar con fuego and Tabaré in which, quite simply, we find anything approaching the brilliance of El juramento, Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, La revoltosa or La generala; give me something that approaches that almost inexhaustible imagination in which sophistication and populism, theatricality and beauty are intertwined. As Juan José Carreras says in La música en España en el siglo XIX: ‘A ghost runs through the whole of the Spanish 19th century: the ghost of national opera’, and Teatro de la Zarzuela is still striving, after the resurrection of Circe, to become The House of the Spirits.
Tomás Bretón was, is and will be ‘the composer of La verbena de la Paloma’, and we have to be very blind (and very deaf) to continue to turn our backs on the rest of his zarzuelas. Why bring back yet another ‘operón’ by Bretón, after 2020’s sympathetic Farinelli, when we don’t know El certamen de Cremona or El Domingo de Ramos? Is it a question of labels? If so, there will be no lack of comments that Teatro de la Zarzuela is doing the homework for Teatro Real.
Those who think that this kind of choice works in the composer’s favour are mistaken; those who cite those diaries and letters in which he lambasted his Verbena while declaring – to Saint-Saëns! – that Tabaré was his best opera are deluded. It is quite obvious there is nothing in that, and those who choose to revive such a title could not have bothered to study El guardia de corps, Botín de guerra or Al fin se casa la Nieves. For twenty years now our mouths have been watering, reading the indispensable monograph Víctor Sánchez published in 2002 (Tomás Bretón: un músico de la Restauración) and thinking of other Verbenas, other forgotten óperas cómicas. Another time, friend Bretón! Sleep on, zarzuelas and sainetes!
As for Tabaré itself, I admit that, arriving at Calle Jovellanos, I was thinking of the recent Götterdämmerung which we recently enjoyed at the Real: a lyric drama in three acts by Bretón tailored for the heroic tenor Francisco Viñas? A libretto by the composer himself in which he adapts an epic poem of indigenous cast? In reality I was expecting anything... and I found an opera that was melodically dry, dramaturgically naïve, looking more to the model of 1860s grand opéra – L’Africaine, no doubt – than to Wagner. There is a certain expressive handling of dissonance, rhythmic ostinati and Leitmotif... but don’t ask me to hum any tunes today. As is often the case with so many Hispanic composers, it is the fragments involving chorus that are – to my mind – the score’s most characterful moments, particularly those characterising the sounds of nature and the Native Americans.
Tabaré’s performance has been made possible thanks to the efforts of its critical editor (and our zarzuela.net colleague) Víctor Sánchez. ICCMU has prepared a new copy of the score and orchestral parts allowing the conductor Ramón Tebar to sail this enormous ship with dignity. His interpretation was correct, more concerned with keeping things together than with fantasy or emotion. Under his baton, tenor Andeka Gorrotxategui did what he could as the Heldentenor lead until, unfortunately, he lost his voice in the second act. Alongside him Maribel Ortega held her own and hit the notes; but her voice, somewhat harsh in the upper echelons, was far from conveying the rapture required by the character. Juan Jesús Rodríguez, as always, proved an accomplished baritone. The best thing, for me, was to hear again the expressive singing of Alejandro del Cerro and an engrossing interpretation (which rewarded hours of study) from Luis López Navarro.
© Miccone and zarzuela.net, 2022