Artist, traveler, and writer Madeline Nicholson reviews various theatres and plays that she saw during her year of living in Murcia, Spain.
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Murcia is a pocket of sun, farms, the Mediterranean, and void of large tourist groups. As a blessed result, the capital city and region offers all the best Spanish qualities without inflation. Because the cost of living in Murcia is so reasonable, one of my main priorities was to attend as many live performances as possible in my nine months living in the city center, especially coming from Connecticut where a season theatre pass is a summer’s salary and a single show even in the rafters is a day’s substitute pay. It was like having a carte blanche at the box offices of the three local theatres.
Known in giving directions as “the big pink building,” Teatro Romea and its surrounding public square was reserved for special occasions in my mind. I had one dinner in the outdoor restaurant with its neoclassical façade to aggrandize the meal, for example. Inside the hall, one cannot help but be greeted by historical mental images of long, white gloves and shiny, leather shoes. In every room frescos retelling the history of opera ribbon the ceiling, and saturate this elegant environment.
Inside the smallest of the three theatres, this horseshoe-shaped audience sat three tiers. The seats get points for their linear design while still having some comfort thanks to the velvet. It is the most modern of the three and the edgier plays happened here.
Auditorio Victor Villegas
Just outside the main city center, this huge auditorium stood across from a series of white metal suspension bridges that curved across the Rio Segura. Pale yellow stone mixed with concrete formed the gallery entrance and stairwells to open up to her 1,700-seat theatre. I had a season pass here in the upper stage left mezzanine for the grand concerts and ballets.
Directed by: Mario Gas
Penned by French existentialist Albert Camus in 1938, this story follows Emperor Caligula’s descent into cruel madness. I saw this on my first Wednesday with a fellow aux, a French teacher who laughed when I said the title because she read it in high school. Hearing her perspective afterwards contextualized this heavy, bizarre play.
The set was a large, black rake that only left room for standing soliloquies at the front. The innovative lighting design of Quico Gutiérrez carried the viewer through all the scene changes (mainly moving a chair or table from here to there) and eventually into Caligula’s breakdown where, all of a sudden, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” blares through. Caligula sheds his robe in favor of white sequined suspender suit while his colleague is dressed as a disheveled Ledger Joker complete with makeup, a microphone and whip. In a big surprise, two bodies are discovered under the rake when pieces are removed and the emperor himself takes a bath in the same set piece in the last scene. Once real grapes missed an actors’ mouth and rolled down the rake in an epicurean gusto, I realized this play was my version of a “Welcome to Murcia: you’ll like our arts scene here.”
Don Juan Tenorio
Directed by: Julio Navarro Albero; Amigos del Tenorio
I saw this twice in the same week at different venues. I learned it is a Spanish tradition to perform Don Juan the first week in November because the dead play a main role in this story, linking it with All Saints Day, November 1. How cool is that? Albero’s was performed with grand costumes and diaphragm-supported voices. A sizeable ensemble made the merry scenes a bacchanal contrasting against the grim silence between Don Juan and the ghosts. Tenorio’s was in the intimate underbelly of the Villegas auditorium. There were maybe 80 attendees in the audience and we could all see the despair on Don’s face towards the end. Despite only having been in Spain for two months, I felt lucky and wholly appreciative to begin to share in Spanish traditions.
Presented by: UCAM
Through 50 years (1940-1990) the same backyard has plays host to a group of friends as their lives start as young adults. It starts with a happy wedding and ends with some tears in your eyes. This show was the result of a semester of rehearsals between UCAM students and professors. The very same friend who saw Calígula with me stars as the grandmother! The set changes were seamlessly integrated into the dialogue as fairy lights and dining sets switched in and out. A highlight is an improvised line from the grandson who was helping his abuelita climb down from the tree with a ladder and was having trouble with the grip hook. “I don’t remember this branch being here!” He quipped. Just as Calígula started the theatrical dive into Murcia, Primavera closed the chapter in May with a similar gusto for stage production.
Romeo y Julieta & La Bella y La Bestia
Presented by: Compañía Murciana de Danza; Malandian Ballet Biarritz
Emblems of the region, these ballets in flamenco style indigenize the classic tales of Romeo and Juliet, and Beauty and the Beast in terms of Murcian dance, costumery, and storytelling. I had never seen or felt anything of their kind beforehand. I was wholly entranced with how they used flamenco choreography and a live band onstage to speak through backlit-articulated wrists, fingers, and proud shoulders.
Norma & Aida (Teatro de la Ópera Nacional de Moldavia) - What an experience to watch an opera with an opera singer friend. She decodes the vocal techniques, plot, and theatre acoustics for me during intermission!
Les Musiciens du Louvre performing J. S. Bach’s La Pasión Según San Mateo - A Holy Week event.
Orquesta de Paris performing Beethoven’s Concierto para piano Nº 3, Op. 37 & Brahms’ Sinfonía núm. 3 - A 119-person orchestra. A 119-person orchestra!
Aprovechead de Murcia! I found my comfort in regularly attending live shows in Murcia. What are your ways of discovering a new community after a move?