Category Archives: Spanish Golden Age of Theatre

ALMAGRO and the International Festival of Classical Theatre


image
imageDespite the early morning train and a long but comfortable journey, arriving at the deserted Almagro station felt like a homecoming.  With ease I was able to walk to the centre of town and find The Almagro Parador. The cool comfort it offers feels like an oasis in the desert.  Almagro is in Castille-La Mancha which is pretty much in the centre of Spain. I just love it. It is the wide yellow plains of Don Quixote, with evocative architecture, specialized manchegro cuisine, bull raising, and unique hospitality and friendliness.

imagePredictably another wonderful gin and tonic, then quickly into ‘town’ to get a ticket for tonight’s show.

I am greeted by Laura who I met last year and even though the show was fully booked, I did manage to get a ticket for the Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico production of Donde Hay Agravios No Hay Celos by Rojas Zorrilla. The approximate translation of the title is, Where There is No Jealousy, There is No Grievance.
imageAs the name of the theatre company suggests, this is the National Classic Theatre Company and is based in Madrid. Its’ charter is to preserve and present theatre of The Golden Age  and each year it takes up residency at Almagro for the festival and performs in the beautiful outdoor auditorium at the Teatro Hospice de San Juan.image The director, Helena Pimenta is very well regarded and the very stylish and slick production I saw last year made me a big fan.

A return to the Parador, a beer, a snack, a bath and a nap to get ready for the 22.45 start. Very civilized indeed and then people still go out for drinks and tapas afterwards, the main square is full of activity and the craft market operates over the weekend. So both tourists and local artesans are well catered for.

image This rarely performed play was quite a contrast to the high camp sophistication that  I saw last year and instead presented the rakish adventures of a country caballero and his buffoon, Sancho. When considering the location of this festival, there is an irrepressible charm associated with the choice of this work.   Basically, it’s a let’s swap identities story that reminded me a bit of Don Giovanni, in a rural setting. The set and costumes were appropriately rustic: again, a stark contrast from the high glamour of 2013. The execution of the piece was very imaginative with a piano accordion as a musical accompaniment that served to link scene and lighting changes orchestrated by one of the female actors with some captivating moments that made me look forward to her every entrance just to change a scene!

What I derived from this production was the superb use of language. The language of The Golden Age is exceedingly difficult High Baroque and I was very aware of the vocal coaching provided by Vincente Fuente, whose vocal workshop, The Way of Verse, I had attended last year. Overall the tightness of the company in executing the piece was the stand out which is all due to the masterful direction by Ms Pimenta.
As it transpires, and for a range of circumstances that will become apparent, this is the only show I saw in Almagro and it was an exceedingly fine example of The Spanish Golden Age. It also embodied the lovely lifestyle experience of being in Almagro during the festival, and yes of course, I was able to help the local economy by getting a couple of things at the craft market.

For Salome Bielsa’s truly evocative photos of Almagro go to
https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157606164312650/

 

image

imageimageimage

Advertisements

Almagro Day 6

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, Almagroff, Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, Fuenteoveojuna by Lopes de Vega, El lindo don Diego by Moreto, Fuentovejuna by Lopes de Vega, the Castile – La Mancha countryside, Almodovar’s village, Caldaza de Calatrava, Volver

This was a wonderful day and almost as if I’d be saving the best till last. In preparation for my drive to Merida tomorrow, I had to go back to Ciudad Real to collect the hire car before 1.30. Once again I headed to the Almagro Estacion and made the 15 minute trip by fast train. As I needed to familiarize myself with right hand side of the road driving, I decided to do a bit of sight seeing before returning to Almagro. I started off in the heat of the day and as I was driving (well getting lost really) around Ciudad Real, I saw a very big market. And the best thing was that it had stall after stall of fruit and vegetables! I left with bags full of goodies.

From the market I went to several special sites including Alacros, a medieval town, military stronghold, which included the Knights Templar Order of Calatrava, and a battlefield, against the Moors. Close by is another historical medieval sacred castle and monastery called Calatrava La Nueva which the Knights of the Calatrava maintained.

Just exploring these places enabled me to contextualise the period of chivalry in this province of Castile-La Mancha that so inspired Cervantes. Looking at the broad, empty landscape (and not a windmill in sight) one can appreciate the journeys of Don Quixote (with his squire, Sancho Panza) and his quest to do right.

Another curiosity is that Calzada de Calatrava, the village at the foot of the castle, is the birthplace of Pedro Almodovar. When he was 8, Almodovar was sent to boarding school in Caceres, Extremadura, which is in the Merida area of Spain. His film,Volver, is based in and around Almagro and I was reminded of the opening scene when each day I noticed the women in Almagro scrubbing the brick work, window sills and pavements of their houses. Of course Almodovar is exceedingly famous now and he lives, and has his production office, in Madrid, but it is interesting to connect any artist to place.

While I was in Caldaza, I stopped in a bar for an ice cream, and there I saw a local Bullfight on TV. I am greatly attracted by the theatricality of Bullfighting and have resolved to go to one. Madrid of course houses the main bullring but as it is a seasonal activity I will need to plan for it on another trip. Although, I’m not averse to a municipal bullfight like the one I saw advertised in Ciudad Real.

Before going to the theatre in the evening, I was able to include a visit to the Museum of Theatre. What I found extraordinary is that the museum is a huge building at the end of the Plaza de Mayor
in a small provincial town. While it may be true that Almagro values the tourist influx associated with its’ festival, I also suggest it is equally true that it also has the greatest respect for its theatre history and the history of theatre in general. This museum focused on theatre memorabilia, ephemera and costumes. And sadly for me, its’ opening at 6 pm meant that I had very little time there before going to catch the bus to Teatro La Valete. This museum is another place to which I’d like to return.

This production Lopes de Vega’s, Fuenteovejuna, was a perfect blending of old text and contemporary adaptation. I am told that it has been in the company’s repertoire for some two years, and that certainly shows in terms of slickness, wonderful ensemble work and a real commitment to telling the story.
Set out of doors on this beautifully balmy evening, the play unfolded with all of the well known elements associated with this piece. Despotism, municipal corruption and abuse of power, community fear, torture on the rack, the ultimate resistance by the community and hubris of the Corregidor was handled in the manner of modern day activism, sort of a class action approach, with appropriate slogans, chanting, a petition and enlistment of supporters, to no avail but a totally concerted agreement by the whole town that ‘Fuenteovejuna made me do it.’
Each actor excelled in representing the various characters and situations as well as working well with the audience to gain its support for the cause. It’s a marvellous play, which I encourage people to read. And at the end of it, I couldn’t help but feel it was an appropriate choice given Spain’s economic difficulties at the moment.

The second play of the evening was totally superb. El lindo don Diego by Agustin Moreto, was for me an example of everything The Spanish Golden Age of theatre stood for. Performed by Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico, it was a triumph of style, theatricality, wondrous period costuming, innovative, economical, stage design and beautiful execution of the verse on the part of the actors. (Once again trained by Vincente Feuntes.)
This is a play of foppery and narcissism, a twisted plot of suitable social status for marriage and the ultimate humiliation of Don Diego, who realizes that it is only his extravagant appearance that has suffered.
I’m very regretful that I was not able to get some worthwhile photos during the production and the scanty curtain call photos do nothing to indicate the triumph of the piece. I had certainly left the best to last and that in itself made the Almagro experience intensely rewarding. I look forward to the programme next year and put out a challenge to some Australian actors to consider a classic to perform there in 2014.

I was sad to leave Almagro, I had been with some terrific people and the experience of immersing myself in The Golden Age of Spanish Theatre in a ‘ golden age’ location was not only rewarding but has left me wanting to know more.

Almagro Day 5

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, Almagroff, Historia del Loco Cardenio by Shakespeare y Fletcher, Quevado at The Corral de Comedias, Golden Age of Spanish Theatre

This was the last day of the workshop and I’ve attached some photos of the class, some of the group at lunch, and our feet under the table. It was a marvellous experience for me and to meet and go to theatre with Vincente Fuentes was a very special privilege. I would love to bring him to Australia to do a workshop on verse and his method of teaching voice…who knows?

Before I went to the theatre, I went to a beautiful exhibition devoted to the development of theatre scenery and Lantern shows. The history and artistry involved in creating the images for projection was fascinating and the exhibits made me aware of the craftsmanship involved in creating these exceedingly detailed, highly coloured miniatures which ranged from children’s stories and nature to mythological and religious subject matter. In addition to see models of sets for theatre and opera productions in Madrid from the 18c really excited me. Once again, it puts the craft of theatre into context and the respect that Spain accords to its theatre tradition. Sadly there were no photos allowed, but I gather that this was a travelling exhibition from Madrid and there was also a documentary about famous actors and their equally famous costumes which certainly came well into the 20c. Truly, as the Almagro Festival had so much to see apart from the theatre productions, it was very hard to find sufficient time to do it all and I’m really sorry I didn’t get to see any of the children’s theatre, Barroco Infantil. I did however meet the Festival Director, Natalia Menendez, and was able to express to her how her title for the festival, The Colour of the Classics, and her warm introduction to the programme had enticed me to make the journey from Melbourne. I believe the classics are the soul of theatre and my coming to terms with classics from another culture has been a very rewarding experience.

Historia del loco Cardenio at Teatro La Veleta was another valuable experience in introducing me to the existence of a play by Shakespeare and Fletcher about the Story of the Cardenio in Don Quixote. Vincente told me the text is wonderful and so I will make a point of discovering this for myself when I get home. My google research indicates that this is one of those plays around which scholars are divided about the authorship.

At 10.30 pm the Plaza Mayor was buzzing. As people were queuing to get into the Corral de Comedias, a fire twirler was attracting much attention while at the other end of the square an artisan market was selling everything from pickled delicacies, finely crafted ceramics, glove puppets, jewellry, children’s clothing and a spruiker was announcing the beginning of his puppet show.

As the crowd swelled we surged into the Corral with the canvas puled back to reveal the full moon and to allow some breeze into the stifling night. The crowd was so excited and so was I. And I too, had become accustomed to taking a fan with me to see a show!
Quevedo was not a show I especially wanted to see, but I did want to see the Corral in action. Of course it was completely full. The play took a cultural tourism look at Quevado’s work and I got a sense that it was dealing with notions of justice and reason. He too, had been a most prolific writer and raised issues about theology and justice. A rather tricky thing to do during the period of the Inquisition.
Francisco de Quevedo – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_de_Quevedo
The play was a 3 hander with a tourist guide cum nun setting the story and then Quevado and another nun discoursing about his works. This was very difficult for me to follow as it seemed quite philosophical and with just one man in a bed, scraps of paper everywhere and two nuns trying to keep him well and fed, on this occasion my lack of Spanish completely defeated me. I did however achieve what I set out to do and that was to see a performance in the Corral. I am sorry it wasn’t a rollicking, bawdy piece of nonsense.
But it was a wonderful experience just to be in the space.