Teatro Real de Madrid 2018-19 Review: Zarzuela Recital Featuring Jose Bros & Ruth Iniesta
An Exciting Celebration Of Zarzuela By Top Spanish ArtistsBy Mauricio Villa
José Bros, a highly regarded Spanish tenor, chose to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his opera debut with a recital of Zarzuela pieces. He was joined by rising soprano Ruth Iniesta, who happens to be currently performing the role of “Nannetta” in Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the same stage.
The two sang an equal number of Zarzuela arias and shared the stage for four Zarzuela duets, many of them the greatest hits of the Spanish repertoire. They were accompanied by the orchestra of Teatro Real, conducted by Spanish musician Josè María Moreno. In sum, it was a Spanish concert through and through with all of the participants from the European country.
Zarzuela could be considered the Spanish operetta, being dramatic musical compositions, which alternate music and text. They tell popular and amusing plots, usually regarding humble or lower classes with music that reflects the folkloric rhythms of the time they were composed in. Their scores, full of recognizable and catchy melodies, were usually categorized as minor compositions in contrast with the big opera compositions. But all this has made Zarzuela extremely popular to the Spanish audience, because they are sung in the native language rather than a foreign one that few people could understand. The golden age of La Zarzuela happened between the first half of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jose Bros, whose debut took place at the Gran Teatre de Liceu in “Anna Bolena” in 1992, has enjoyed a successful career performing at the most famed opera houses such as the Covent Garden, La Scala, the Wien Staatsoper, and the San Francisco Opera, among others. Bros sung the role of Nemorino from “L’Elisir d’Amore” during the reopening season of Teatro Real in 1998, becoming a fixture with the company in a number of operas over the years. Bros has a “Lirico leggero” tenor voice able to sustain an uncomfortably high tessitura and produce stratospheric high notes like a high D natural.
Of course, his voice has changed during his 25-year career. He still possesses a wonderful legato line, his lower notes have gained consistency and projection, and his timbre, although sounding nasal sometimes, is clean and vibrant. But he has problems in the upper part of his register now. Up to the high A flat, the voice sounds even and effortless. But from high A natural to high B natural, the notes seemed pushed in the attack, with a strange wobble and low vibrato. His whole body shows the amount of effort he puts into singing those notes.
Still, it was a pleasure to hear pieces like “De este apacible rincòn de Madrid” from “Luisa Fernanda,” “Bella enamorada” from “El último romántico,” or “Mujer de los ojos negros” from “El huésped del Sevillano,” where he could show off his polished legato singing and style. That said, most zarzuelas arias, including the ones he performed, finish with a high note that should bring down the house each time. Unfortunately Bros struggled with these endings throughout. By the time he sung “Por el humo se sabe dónde está el fuego” from “Doña Francisquita,” which was his last solo piece of the program, his voice sounded tired, his timbre dried up and the famous interpolated high B flat of the ending did not work at all.
Surprisingly, his best interpretation was an immaculate reading of famous “No puede ser” from “La Tabernera del Puerto” that Bros presented as an encore. He managed to place a high A natural in a perfect, effortless vocal “I” and managed to keep this position for the rest of the A naturals of the aria. He gave the popular song “Júrame” as an encore too, explaining to the audience that he used to sing this song when he was a young boy and that it has accompanied him along his career.
Ruth Iniesta is a young lyric soprano who has gained the favor of the critic and the audience in recent years, performing in Italy and Spain mostly. She has a distinguished voice with a strong vibrato, an accurate coloratura technique, and ringing high notes.
She began with “En un país de fábula” from “La tabernera del Puerto,” a romanza that demands staccato high notes as well as pianissimo sustained finales. She fulfilled all these demands, but the voice sounded a bit cold and the attack of the staccato notes not too delicate. But she warmed up quickly enough to present all her vocal virtuosity in her next appearances.
She performed “Madre de mis amores” from “Monte Carmelo,” which finished with a cadenza accompanied by a flute that obviously reminds of Lucia’s mad scene cadenza. Then she took on “El vals de la bujía” from “Luces y sombras” where her staccato high notes were delicate and balance. Finally she interpreted the famed “Me llaman la primorosa” from “El barbero de Sevilla,” where she showed her ringing high notes, including a high D in the cadenza and a high E natural at the end.
It was surprising that she decided to sing “Pobre chica” from “La Gran Via” as it is usually sung by mezzo sopranos (it has a low tessitura) and requires more physical acting and expression in lieu of vocal bravura. But Iniesta is such a good performer that she demonstrated how to recreate every character behind each of her arias, giving a performance full of energy and contrasts.
Iniesta and Bros offered four duets from “Doña Francisquita,” “Jugar con Fuego,” “La Tabernera del Puerto,” and “Luisa Fernanda.” Their voices blend well together, and they have chemistry onstage. Jose Bros’ high notes were less exposed while singing with the soprano, and though you could see the physical effort he made to reach them, the sound was dimmed by Iniesta’s voice. They also performed the duet from “EL dúo de la Africana” as an encore. They did not hesitate in reprising it along with the duet from “Luisa Fernanda,” at the end of the concert as extra encores. The audience, it must be noted, was in raptures with the entire concert.
The Orchestra of Teatro Real under the direction of the conductor José María Moreno provided great energy and contrasting dynamics throughout these well-known pieces. María Moreno showed a tendency for fast tempi and forte sound, but it suited the compositions well and the orchestra sounded beautiful.
In all, it was a very entertaining homage to Spanish compositions, with Bros visibly moved, Iniesta making a star turn, and the orchestra sounding vibrant and enthusiastic under María Moreno’s hand.