ZARZUELA La Verbena de la Paloma King's Theatre

Edinburgh Festival 97
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The Independent Culture
Authenticity is a wonderful thing. It used to mean arty-crafty performances on rickety instruments, but nowadays it can mean humour, relish, delight.

It is clear that La Verbena de la Paloma was meant by its presenters (its was a co-operation of Focus and the Centre Cultural Sant Cugat) to be an authentic reproduction of a one-act zarzuela chica of the 1890s; the conductor's evening suit confirmed this, with its reminiscence of the Palace of Varieties, custard pies and shouts from the gallery.

Costumes were simple and cheap, scenery basic, and there was very little production to speak of. The whole thing was meant to take place in the midst of a Madrid street festival, so the producer had evidently said: dance, laugh, let yourself go, and to hell with it. Neither was there anything you could call an operatic voice; the characters just warbled and hollered.

The noble old King's Theatre was just the place for this kind of thing, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra can sound gamey and rancid as you like. The stage was swept by gales of laughter; it was hard to believe that Carles Canut, as the frisky old roue Don Hilarion, and Josep Mota, as his sidekick Don Sebastian, fall about with this kind of laughter at every performance. Maybe they spend their life laughing.

The plot was pretty well non-existent. The headstrong young Julian (Marco Moncloa, a dark and interesting youth with something like a voice) loves Susana, who is encouraged by her sister Casta (see? comic name) to dally with an old man to spite her lover. It ends happily, as you'd have guessed.

En route, they encounter a flamenco singer (Patricia Sevilla) who snarls and rasps in the best style, dancing shamelessly and showing her splendid legs; two policemen who devote themselves to walking away from trouble; a street piano-player (at last, a truly rickety instrument) and assorted young persons, all nice to look at and quite without inhibitions.

The girls are nominally held in check by their aunt (MaCinta Compta) who turns out to be the rudest, noisiest and sexiest of the lot; and Julian is encouraged by the inn-keeper's wife Rita, played with lots of sentiment and sympathy by Amelia Font.

And running through everything there is a catchy habanera tune, one of the great hits of the composer Tomas Breton. There was nothing arty-crafty there; it was crude, loud, funny, tuneful, totally bewitching.

Raymond Monelle