Puesta en escena de Las amargas lágrimas de Petra von Kant. Foto: Yuris Nórido.
Puesta en escena de Las amargas lágrimas de Petra von Kant. Foto: Yuris Nórido.

That repertoire called Teatro El Público

9 minutos / Norge Espinosa Mendoza

16.12.2020 / Articles

The voice of Marta Strada, that myth of the bohemian habanera of the 60s, closed each performance of the North American Theater Trilogy that, between the summer of 1990 and January of 1991, became the most commented stage phenomenon of the season. The director who debuted with these three productions was Carlos Díaz, a disciple of Roberto Blanco. And he had dared to resurrect not only titles from Tennessee Williams (Zoo Glass and A Streetcar Named Desire) and Robert Anderson (Tea and Sympathy), but Marta Strada herself. The Covarrubias room was filled with posters and panels by Consuelo Castañeda, with actors and actresses who undressed without modesty, shedding the dazzling costumes designed by Vladimir Cuenca… and music. The soundtrack corresponded to Juan Piñera, who mixed with a postmodern and even Almodovarian accent very different sounds, in tribute to the golden Hollywood, but also to the pop of the 60s, the bolero of the 50s, the nostalgia that enters through the ears and he becomes another character in those shows, loaded with an irony that was, at the same time, a tribute and a reinvention. There was the nucleus of Teatro El Público, which two years later would officially be born. And that, from that first moment, literally, made herself see and even hear as something extraordinary in the theatrical panorama of the Island. Marta Strada came to the Covarrubias room to hear herself singing Tómbola, on a visit that since that night it is already part of the myth of the company that was about to be born.

Music has always been a crucial element in the best performances of Teatro El Público. Sagacious director, Carlos Díaz has surrounded himself with collaborators who add textures, codes, signs to his endeavor that enrich the very plot of each montage. In a first stage of the group, Juan Piñera was responsible for creating distances or unitive pathways between the music fragments and the dialogues of each work. At a time when Piñera seemed to be ubiquitous, he was responsible for the soundtracks of numerous shows and in those of Teatro El Público he marked a whole period through Las criadas, by Jean Genet; La niñita querida (a piece by his uncle, Virgilio Piñera, whom he incorporated, as a cameo, on stage) and El Público, by Federico García Lorca, which finally premiered in Cuba in 1994 and then had two other versions in 1995 and 1998. Thanks to his extraordinary musical culture, Juan Piñera used popular song, opera, film scores and true archival rarities to combine, from his work, other possible readings of those provocative and baroque stagings.

El Público. Foto: Lessy Montes de Oca.

El Público. Foto: Lessy Montes de Oca.

When Calígula was released in 1996, Ulises Hernández was responsible for the soundtrack. It was the first time that he collaborated with Carlos Díaz, but not with Teatro El Público, as he had created the music for Morir de noche, premiered by Mario Muñoz with this group. In Calígula, from the text of Camus, he achieved a notable impact with the use of choirs (Ars Longa, conducted by Teresa Paz), and orchestra. The emperor's malignancy had his fanfare and his theatrical punch accentuated by the music on one of the company's biggest hits. Hernández would also join Teatro El Público for the premieres of Squad Toward Death, King Lear and Las brujas de Salem.

The postmodern play with music, its appearance as a narrative language within the staging, as an act of underlining or opposing what was seen, returned with Marie Antoinette or the damn circumstance of water everywhere, one of the most challenging that Carlos has assumed and that also had two versions. In the first, the "black" Marie Antoinette (I identify one or the other by the color of the curtains of its capacity), the choreographic contributions of Xenia Cruz and Sandra Ramy to actor-dancers were combined, to imagine a Cuban family painting , with its recurring obsessions and delusions. Elena Burke's voice —who attended the premiere at the Trianón, El Público's headquarters— was a guide that, thanks to Sigfredo Ariel's suggestions, added songs by Mongo Santamaría or the Orquesta Aragón, with appearances by the glorious voices of Carlos Pack and Merceditas Valdés.

Puesta en escena de Noche de reyes. Foto: Yuris Nórido.

Staging of Twelfth Night. Photo: Yuris Nórido.

In the second version, the "white" Marie Antoinette, the keys to the first were kept and, although the presence of Virgilio Piñera was added thanks to an actor who played him - in a kind of biography of the great Cuban playwright raised from his texts, letters, etc.—, not for that reason Elena Burke stopped inviting us to a last coffee, nor Andy García gave up repeating his desire to return to Bejucal with the chords of Cachao. Piñera himself, played by Waldo Franco, sat on a bench in the Havana night to sing, along with some cronies, nothing more and nothing less than Amigas, that anthem of the Cuban LGBTIQ community, created by Alberto Vera as a tribute to the most famous members of the Las D´Aida quartet.

The list of composers and those responsible for the soundtracks of Teatro El Público is, in itself, a mirror of the diversity and capacity that the group has to assimilate the most diverse references. Juan Piñera returned to the group to create the excellent score for La Gaviota, released in the early 2000s. Piano and violin were enough to sustain the atmosphere of the Chekhovian text, demonstrating his undoubted quality as a composer. The soprano Bárbara Llanes, from Bejucal like Carlos Díaz himself, would not only provide her voice to other composers linked to the company, but she herself would create pieces for works such as Josefina La Viajera and Fedra.

Carlos Díaz with Juan Piñera and Bárbara Llanes. Photo: Norge Espinosa.

Carlos Díaz with Juan Piñera and Bárbara Llanes. Photo: Norge Espinosa.

As the group's theatrical consultant, on several occasions I have given the director the recordings that have been incorporated into various productions, according to his needs. Songs by Pablo Milanés performed by Burke, which were never included in any album and slept in the archives for ¡Ay, mi amor !; themes by Mina and Marta Strada for The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant; or by Raffaella Carrá for Drops of water on hot stones, also from Fassbinder. The sound arc that surrounds the interpreters of Teatro El Público is as wide as the voracity of the company itself, to which those creators already mentioned here have returned time and again and which continues to assume many other names, such as David Guerra or Adrián Torres, or DJoy from Cuba.

From La Natilla de Habana Abierta as a festive and sweeping closing of La Celestina, to the reinterpretations of La vie en rose for La loca de Chaillot. From the epic accents of King Lear to the minstrel play of The Decameron. From Barbarito Diez singing Marta to Esther Borja evoked in the throat of Osvaldo Doimeadiós through Devuélveme el corazón en Santa Cecilia. From Madonna and hers I´m Going Bananas in the Trilogy, to Björk in Art, by Yasmina Reza. From the bells of Ulises Hernández to the music of Ícaros to the tribute to Farah María in Harry Potter, the magic is over. From Sara González to Maggie Carlés, who raised her Hail Mary in full act of choteo to celebrate the fifteen years of her beloved little girl. From Verdi to Longing for the conga, with which La puta respetuosa closed. From Maria Callas to in Days like today, or Miriam Ramos as an echo of distant Cuba in Ana in the tropics. Or the procacious cabaret accent of La Machetera de Antigonón, an epic contingent. Or Liza Minnelli with hers New York, New York to Me voy pa´ La Habana, by Ricardito and Los Latinos. Thus, the list is endless and extends beyond the Trianón stage and its catwalk, when Ulises Hernández convinces Carlos Díaz and his team to tackle La clemencia de Tito, an opera by Mozart, presented with success in Havana and at the Kennedy Center of Washington DC.

The memory of Teatro El Público is full of images. But also about music, as these lines outline, which could be even more extensive and detailed. Because in this way a bridge of complicity is created, that fundamental key to the work of this company, towards the viewer. They are almost thirty years of these provocations. This way of seeing. And to listen to Teatro a El Público, for the good of the Cuban scene. That one, which stopped the traffic of Linea street after the ceremony of delivery of the National Theater Award to Carlos Díaz, following the impulses of the drums of the Charangas de Bejucal.

Norge Espinosa Mendoza

Poeta, dramaturgo, crítico y géminis. Bipolaridad cultural incurable. En otra vida fue cabaretólogo.

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