History is full of songs that
narrate what its protagonists experience so that it can be
transmitted from generation to generation to somehow remember the
events that occurred at some point in time. "Ay, Carmela!," also
known as "El paso del Ebro" (The crossing of the River Ebro), was
born from the voices of several Spaniards who sang in 1808 against
the French invasion of Spain, during the War of Independence. Over
a century later, the anarchists brought it back to life and sang it
during one of the worst possible armed conflicts, one which forces
people to kill their own brothers, cousins and friends - the
Spanish Civil War.
A few days ago, on a hot evening,
we were walking among the crowds in Madrid. We were heading for the
Reina Victoria Theater to take a seat and relive an episode of
Spanish history narrated in the form of songs. And we most
Andrés Lima directs a cast of
actors led by Inma Cuesta, Javier Gutiérrez and Marta Ribera, in
the musical adaptation of the theater piece and subsequent movie:
"Ay, Carmela!." The actors shined but what most impressed us
-nearly making us shiver in delight- was the scenography, backed by
an illumination, that seemed to spit out bombs and fire (not
emanating from the spotlights). Thus, my most sincere
congratulations and praise to Beatriz San Juan and Valentín Álvarez
for managing to make my hair stand on end.
Traditional women with a daring
spirit, dressed in mourning and naked, accompanied and alone, with
faces that cry and mouths that laugh. A succession of Spanish women
in black & white and red & grey, take up the first minutes
of the show, talking about the past, about how they lived and the
things that afflicted them.
Marta Ribera guided us through the
story with her sensual and enlightening voice. Her words, sometimes
shouted and at others whispered, alternated with the sound of
bomber planes, forests that crackled ablaze at dusk- times of fire
and death. And the words kept flowing as the wagon of Carmela and
Paulino with its slogan: "variedades a lo fino" (fine varieties)
plowed ahead towards its destiny.
Although I kept waiting for Inma
Cuesta's performance as Carmela with her Andalusian magical charm,
I cannot ignore the excellent job of her cover artist, Sagra
Mielgo, in her role as a brave woman of solid ideas, who led us to
remember the story sung to Carmela, as the story's protagonist.
Paulino's role was played by a
brilliant Javier Gutiérrez. I also enjoyed hearing, in Italian,
Mussolini's envoy, played by a surprisingly amusing Javier Navares.
Álvaro Morte, Pablo Raya, and Javier Enguix, complete the cast, as
innocent members of the International Brigades, and murderers -
with and without a cassock.
Javier Guitérrez, Inma Cuesta and Marta
Víctor Manuel, Pedro Guerra and
Vanesa Martín composed the original songs for the musical, which
together with the own songs from original show and the period, such
as "Suspiros de España", "Ay, Carmela", "Giovinezza" and "Jarama
Valley" make up the music notes and lyrics of the show.
"Ay, Carmela!" first premiered in
1987 under the direction of José Luis Gómez, after having been
written by José Sanchis Sinisterra the previous year. It was
subsequently taken to Buenos Aires, where in 1989 great Argentine
actors such as Virginia Lago and Jorge Rivera López and the
director Dervy Vilas revived this story set a the time of the
Spanish Civil War.
In 1990, Carlos Saura decided to
make a movie of "Ay, Carmela!" It went on to wind 13 Goya prizes,
including for best film, actor and actress, with Carmen Maura,
Andrés Pajares and Gabino Diego as leading characters.
Andrés Vicente Gómez, producer of
the movie, assigned José Luis García Sánchez the task of adapting
the story of Carmela to musical theater to be directed by Andrés
Lima. At present and until June 30, the musical is playing at the
Reina Victoria Theater. If you want to be moved one of these spring
evenings in Madrid go and see this musical where the public shows
up in all manner of attire; ties and suits, shorts, sandals and
boots. Buy yourself a ticket and enjoy this great show loaded with
laughter, tears and memories from the past.
We don't know if the events in "Ay Carmela" are real, but they
could well have been. Many women like Carmela were shot to death by
men who were nobodies in uniforms that made them feel powerful. Our
generation has not experienced anything as painful as what is being
shown on stage at the Reina Victoria Theater. Although revenge and
rancor are of no use at all, it is positive that these events are
being recovered and made public by artists, directors, academics
and historians who are reviving these old songs that are part of
our history and should never be forgotten.