Script: José Luís Ortiz Nuevo and Juan Diego Martín. Stage director: Pepa Gamboa.
Text: Gonzalo Montaño Peña
In actual fact, I didn’t quite get the message of the show that took place in Seville on December 10th in honor of Antonio Mairena, although I realize that the mere mention of this singer’s name stirs controversy. On second thought, I did understand it, because the importance of this individual continues to be so great, it’s impossible to chalk him off as biased as so many do, people who, if they were to take an honest look in the mirror, would realize it is they who are biased.
It’s possible not everything Mairena said was true, and he may even have invented certain things, but what is clear is that none of those who criticize him now have managed to come up with any bit of information to discredit the singer’s writings, not to mention his recordings.
The last chapter in this soap opera, is that the Maestranza Theater wanted to put on a dual tribute to Manolo Caracol and Antonio Mairena. A number of performers were hired, but the Caracol family refused to let it happen, so the event took place as a tribute to the artistic figure of Antonio Mairena. And left in the hands of José Luis Ortiz Nuevo.
And it’s the epitome of irony, when you consider Ortiz Nuevo is not exactly what you could call a Mairena fan, but quite the contrary (see “Alegato Contra la Pureza”). All things considered, it is unsettling to say the least, that this person was chosen to write the script for this tribute.
By the same token, it didn’t seem like an apt line-up of artists to honor the maestro (with the exception of Enrique de Melchor) and bring his perspective to light.
The work itself is centered on the early years when Antonio was known as Niño Rafael, up until the death of his idol, singer Manuel Torre, based on the book “Las Confesiones de Antonio Mairena”.
In fact, it seems short-sighted to take that part of Mairena’s life, considering it was a learning time for the singer, when he hadn’t yet made any of the meaningful contributions that would later make him one of the greatest flamenco interpreters of all time. His theoretical work and his importance as an artist would come after those years.
Likewise, at this stage in his life, the artist had three models he followed devotedly and which marked his career: the above-mentioned Manuel Torre, Joaquín el de la Paula and La Niña de los Peines. The latter two are nowhere to be seen throughout the work. The singer’s experiences with Carmen Amaya are however depicted.
Aside from this (which is no small shortcoming considering the supposed purpose of the tribute), the work is well-paced. Segundo Falcón was excellent singing saeta, evoking Antonio on a balcony during Seville’s Holy Week. Also a good choice was Enrique del Melchor with his soleá playing. I have to admit, Arcángel did not remind me at all of Mairena, although the singer did offer a good performance, as usual, and the audience was grateful.
Another who didn’t fit in was Diego Amador. Despite being a musician with a lot of personality, his linking of Mairena by piano-playing and cante was incoherent in the context. His influences are much closer to Camarón and Paco de Lucía. Even so, his tientos piece was good – dissonant and minimalist when he accompanied himself.
Miguel Ochando played a nice clean guitar for Ramón Montoya’s rondeña, and Laura Rozalén used all her coquettish style to evoke Pastora Imperio.
One of the most interesting moments in the show was Moneta’s tangos, the Granada school of dance has a special flair for this form, and this girl is a present talent with a firm future.
Another noteworthy moment was the appearance of Javier Barón with soleá. I like this man’s concept of dance, based on the classic forms but innovating. Barón looks for communication with the singer, and wisely waits for it before playing with tempos and closing.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad show, entertaining even. Varied but not moving. With few elements you could relate to Mairena, covering only the least interesting part of the singer’s life. Had it been a tribute to some other singer instead of Antonio, there wouldn’t have been such controversy, and it would have been much more enjoyable, but it would have been equally unmoving. There were good quality ingredients, but I don’t think this was the “potaje” recipe Mairena would have liked.