El Terrible Pérez

Reviewer's Rating

The 23rd Oviedo Festival of Lyric Spanish Theatre dedicates its second title to El terrible Pérez, a recently recovered  zarzuela called El terrible Pérez. El terrible Pérez was premiered for the first time in 1903, and it was revived in 2014 by the Jacinto e Inocencio Guerrero Foundation in cooperation with the Teatro de la Zarzuela (Madrid) and the SGAE’s CEDOA (Center of Documentation and File); that is to say, the most relevant Spanish Heritage institutions cooperating in the recovery, in a edition of the work and in mounting performances of this lyric musical Spanish work.

This zarzuela belongs to the so-called género chico (“small genre”, in English), and the “degeneration” or minor and degenerate later attempts at a special kind of music theatre work, the género ínfimo (“negligible genre”), one of the zarzuela’s subgenres that became a perfect and highly popular socio-cultural machine during the last decades of the 19th century and that disappeared in the 1920s. It consisted of simple and often burlesque works in one act, with  limited or even sparse musical means  (played by a small orchestra, usually sang by actors instead of professional “classic” singers – something more akin a Broadway musical with a smallish pit band) and simple musical structures, cuplés (a type of song) and dances that were in fashion. The género ínfimo was mainly spoken, and not very long (usually about one hour in extent): a genre for fun and entertainment.

Many things have been very well developed in this zarzuela’s revival: firstly, its edition. The original work, which consisted of 6 musical numbers, was increased to 17 —not all of them complete—, suitably interwoven with the plot and dialogue, some of them taken from other lyric-theatre works written by El terrible Pérez’s original authors: Carlos Arniches, Tomás López Torregrosa and Joaquín Valverde. Secondly, this current version has been realized by Paco Mir, who has already recreated new versions of other neglected zarzuelas so that he could direct them,  such as the hugely successful Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant (this adaptation was so popular that it was shown repeatedly for five seasons in Madrid). Mir’s version of El terrible Pérez is also very interesting as a new approach to a lost work; it presents fresh insights and is highly comical. As was usual in the género chico, references to the present political situation in Spain took place during this performance to the clear delight of the audience.

The stage direction created an agile comedy. The set and costume designs were among the most notable elements. These provided beautiful colouring, which contributed to the show by suitably highlighting such numbers as the Cuplés y coros de los paraguas, “Couplets and umbrella choirs”). Regarding the music, the young conductor Nacho de Paz’s involvement included orchestrating the famous number “La pulga” (The flea), offers one of the most interesting moments referred to timbre, when a trumpet in sourdine underlines this section. His idiomatic and precise conducting was one of the key components of the success of the performance: Paz managed to create interesting sonorities in the orchestra despite the simplicity of the score, and his dance tempi (with habaneras, polkas, gavotas…) worked very well.

The plot picked up the “donjuán” myth (the playboy Don Juan, or Don Giovanni —we could hear the initial measures of Mozart’s opera as a humorous reference)—, but in a comical way: Pérez, the leading role, is obsessed with conquering women, preferably married. He tries to seduce the dressmaker Doña Teresita, wife of the bad-tempered Don Fidel. The first scene happens in Don Braulio’s tailor shop, and the second one takes place in the ambigú where the Beautiful Cocotero, a Mexican music-hall singer who is currently supposed to be very fashionable, works. At the end, all characters mocked Pérez and his supporter Concordio, and the “terrible” Pérez asks for their pardon. The social balance is recovered.

The género ínfimo’s comicalness was mainly focused in women, with attention to sicalipsis (or light and sensual eroticism), and this feature presents the biggest problem in this play: its comedy, despite the obvious improvements to the libretto, seems outdated in our 21st century society; it seems typical of our grandparents’ sense of humour: it had not stood the test of time. Concerning the music, the work itself has catchy dances and cuplés, but it is time to ask, as others have done before me, if this is the work that worth all the effort.

Among the soloists, Eduardo Santamaría (Pérez), Ruth Iniesta (Teresita) and David Menéndez (Fidel) must be highlighted for their fine work. The much-admired singer and composer Pilar Jurado (Cocotero) seemed to me to be uneasy in a role that is not for her, mainly because of the vocal range in which it is written.