Interesting Production of New Opera Based on Lorca Play

SpainSpain Mauricio Sotelo: El Público, Klangforum Wien, Teatro Real Chorus, Pablo Heras Casado (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 1.3.2015 (JMI)

El Publico
El Publico

World Premier

Enrique: José Antonio López
Gonzalo: Thomas Tatzl
Emperador/Prestidigitador: Erin Caves
Elena: Gun-Brit Barkmin
Julieta: Isabella Gaudí
Cantaores: Arcángel & Jesús Mendez
Several roles: Antonio Lozano
Several roles. Josep Miquel Ramón


New Production: Teatro Real
Direction: Robert Castro
Sets: Alexander Polzin
Costumes: Wojciech Dziedzic
Lighting: Urs Schönebaum
Choreography: Darrell Grand Moultrie

This new opera by Spanish composer Mauricio Sotelo was commissioned by Gerard Mortier when he took over the direction of Teatro Real. Mr. Mortier greatly admires the work of Federico García Lorca, which was the main reason for his request.

The libretto by Andrés Ibáñez follows García Lorca’s play, which is notable for its surrealism and its focus on homosexuality. Mauricio Sotelo’s music has some interesting moments, particularly in the second part of the opera. The score requires a chamber orchestra and the significant presence of percussion, piano and flamenco guitar, and it includes a tribute to García Lorca by two flamenco singers, whose voices were obviously amplified. With a contemporary opera, I always ask myself if I would like to see it again should the occasion arise. There are operas that rate a positive answer, for instance Written on Skin. In the case of El Público (The Audience), I would have to think it over. I found the opera more compelling in the  second half, but the first half is too long and might need some cuts.

The opera has  two main protagonists, Enrique and Gonzalo. Enrique, a theatre director, meets his former lover, Gonzalo, after a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Gonzalo reproaches Enrique for the traditionalism of his theatre, encouraging him to offer real theatre, “Theatre under the Sand,” to use the expression in the libretto and play. In parallel we’re shown the confrontation between social conventions (Enrique married to Elena) and reality (Enrique and Gonzalo in love). The conflict extends to the audience (El Público), which Lorca wants to take its own position.

The most interesting aspect is the production by Robert Castro, a regular collaborator of Peter Sellars. He stages a very appropriate and intelligent work on a minimalist stage which, in the second half, consists of mirrors. The costumes are quite original and attractive, and the dark atmosphere on stage benefits from a good job of lighting.

Leading the musical direction was Pablo Heras-Casado, the current principal guest conductor of Teatro Real. He was careful and energetic in an opera that is rather difficult to conduct. Under his baton was the remarkable Klangforum Wien orchestra, brilliant in percussion which so important in this opera. The chorus of the Teatro Real performed at its usual excellent level.

The cast did not offer any starred names, which is normal in these contemporary operas. Among the singers I should note the fine work of baritone José Antonio López as Enrique. Thomas Tatzl was also good in the part of Gonzalo. Tenor Erin Caves as Emperor and Illusionist was acceptable, as was Gun-Brit Barkmin as Elena and Gonzalo’s mother. The young Catalan soprano Isabella Gaudi has an important scene as Julieta, but she had a very light and rather shrill voice. I should also mention the excellent performance of the flamenco singers, Arcángel and Jesús Méndez.

José Mª Irurzun

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