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J. Guridi, El Caserío: Soloists, Bilbao Philarmonia, Coro Rossini. Conductor, Miquel Ortega. Teatro Arriaga de Bilbao. 21.1.2011 (JMI)

New Production in coproduction with Oviedo Teatro Campoamor

Direction: Pablo Viar

Sets: Daniel Bianco

Costumes: Jesús Ruiz

Lighting: Juan Gómez Cornejo

Choreogrphy: Eduardo Muruamendiaraz


Uncle Santi: Ángel Ódena

Ana Mari: Marta Ubieta

José Miguel: Mikeldi Atxalandabaso

Txomin: Alberto Núñez

Inosensia: Izaskun Kintana

Eustasia: Itxaro Mentxaka

Production picture courtesy of Teatro Arriaga

After a production of Mirentxu last season, Teatro Arriaga has dug up something by Jesús Guridi—one of the very best Basque composers. Given the limited competition, one could probably say:the best. Six performances of his excellent zarzuela El Caserío were on the bill... an appropriate way to mark the 85th anniversary of its premiere in Madrid and also the 50th anniversary of Guridi’s death.

Listeners regularly tend to consider zarzuela a minor musical genre; the Iberian sub-form of operetta. However, in zarzuela—just as in opera—there are good and bad works. For me Jesús Guridi’s El Caserío belongs in the category of the very best zarzuelas composed in its long history. An open minded exploration of the genre could very well and rewardingly start here... just not this particular production, which was on balance little more than acceptable, though quite enjoyable from a purely vocal point.

It was a sound decision to offer this zarzuela in its musical integrity while reducing dialogues to what is strictly necessary to follow the plot. Today these quaint dialogues hold little interest; what is really interesting in good zarzuelas is just the music.

The new production has the signature of young Bilbao native Pablo Viar, whose work I have found rather disappointing so far. No exception this time, though that was in good part the result of having to contend with a low budget available. But while that would affect to sets and costumes, there is no reason why it would also affect the stage direction, which came out as rather weak, particularly when the static chorus lumbered about stage.

Musically things never reached a high level. Miquel Ortega is an experienced conductor in this field and he did control stage and pit, but that’s hardly enough for what would be excellent music, given the right esprit. The orchestra under his baton, made up of youths, was not outstanding. A pity that we couldn’t have one of the top Basque orchestras in the pit, as with
Mirentxu last year: the difference is remarkable.

Two singers who clearly outshone the rest: Catalan baritone Angel Òdena and Basque tenor Mikeldi Atxalandabaso. Ódena was a luxury cast as the interpreter of Uncle Santi. Òdena is at a great moment in his career as he showed last month at Barcelona’s Liceu in the character of Ford in Verdi's Falstaff. He was excellent in his e first act aria, in rich and powerful voice.

José Miguel’s character is not for a mediocre tenor, since it is very demanding. In terms of pure singing, musicality, and voice projection, Mikeldi Atxalandabaso was an almost ideal interpreter for the role. He lacks a bit of weight for the second part of the work, particularly in the final confrontation with his uncle, but Atxalandabaso is one of the most promising singers in Spain all the same, with his very clean and most natural projection. His recent success as Nemorino in Oviedo spoke powerfully to that. Marta Ubieta sang the part of Ana Mari, a one-dimensional character, a role she barely filled out.

José M Irurzun

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