Staged for seduction

Published: 04 March, 2020 07:00 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Mumbai will witness a zarzuela - a form of Spanish operetta - for the first time, with a plot about men seducing women

A still from the zarzuela
A still from the zarzuela

Chances are that the word "zarzuela" sounds like Greek to you, which is fair enough since it's a Spanish form of operetta that's never been performed in Mumbai. But that's set to change this evening, with The Neemrana Music Foundation joining hands with the Spanish embassy to stage El Trust de los Tenorios — or The Syndicate of Seducers — at the Royal Opera House.

Composed by the legendary Jose Serrano in 1910, the piece is a comedy, as most zarzuelas are. That's because they were originally performed during the interval of a traditional opera, to provide the audience with light relief. "But by the time Serrano wrote The Syndicate of Seducers, zarzuelas had been accepted as an art form in their own right," says Roc Fargas i Castells, the conductor who's helming the music for the production in Mumbai.

He adds that what makes such performances different from an opera is the fact that the narrative is taken forward through both songs and dialogue, whereas the story in an opera is told completely through music. "The songs in a zarzuela have no plot relevance as such. They might be used for developing certain feelings or setting the background for a scene change, or they might be used simply because they are beautiful works of art," Castells tells us.


Yashraj Jadhav, stage director of the production, adds that zarzuelas have a much faster pace than operas, given their history of being staged during intervals. He also says that they have shortened the original length of The Syndicate of Seducers down to an hour and 15 minutes. The plot set in the early 20th century deals with a men's club in Madrid whose members play a game of one-upmanship with each other, where they try and seduce as many women as they can. But the president, Cabrera, wants to evict one of them, a character named Savoy, since the latter seemingly doesn't have the necessary skills of seduction required to be a part of the club. Savoy thus throws him a challenge. He says that he will seduce the next woman who walks below the balcony that they are on. Except, that this woman turns out to be Isabel, Cabrera's wife.


What follows is a cat-and-mouse game where the president takes his wife to different cities like Paris and Venice, and even to India, in order to thwart Savoy's advances. Castells tells us that the songs also reflect the music prevalent in these places, with an Asian gong and a tanpura being used in the segment set in India, for instance. But he adds that Serrano, in his time, would have had little information about what Indian music was like. So, interestingly, the original tunes in this part of the plot involved a mish-mash of sounds influenced from Israel, Hungary, India and the Far East, since Serrano had to rely largely on guesswork while composing the tracks.

The cast consists entirely of students from the Neemrana Foundation, and Castells tells us that it was a pleasure working with them given the level of excitement they had. "There might be a greater level of technical proficiency in London, where I live now, but some people also tend to get a bit bored there. Here, I just had to say one thing and everyone was immediately enthused about it," he says about a reaction that's understandable, considering how novel a zarzuela is in this part of the world.

ON Tonight, 7 pm
AT Royal Opera House, Mama Parmanand Marg, Girgaum.
COST Rs 300 onwards

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