Europe '96: A quiet day in Barcelona with Candide

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Hung out in Gràcia in Plaça (not "Plaza". This is Catalunya) Rius i Taulet, drinking orxata (not "horchata". This is Catalunya.), sketching and watching the world go by. Walked down toward the city, hung out again in the courtyard of the old Hospital de la Sant Creu, a nice gothic complex which is now mostly schools (including an art school) and libraries.

It also has an exhibition space, a big, looming gothic chapel, which is currently occupied by a site-specific installation by a woman named Nuria Canal, a combination of film, slides and sound in the basically darkened chapel. The title, translated, is When You Close Your Eyes. The main screen is split horizontally, with various slowly modifying images of a woman's eyes in the lower half and various images mostly of light S/M play in the upper half (quite a thing to find in a former chapel): blindfolding, bondage, many of the images just blurry enough to make it hard to tell exactly what's going on, with enough facial expressions in and among them to contextualize this clearly as pleasure. Meanwhile, the side chapels are mostly curtained but with a break in the curtains which lets you see these rather strange film loops of anything from earthquakes and floods and burning buildings to ordinary domestic scenes and birds in flight. And through it all is this kind of ambient noise and a woman's voice intermittently speaking rather low key about her desires, generally in vague terms but including language to the effect that sometimes she needs to be submissive, etc. Pretty cool.

Later, walking through the old city I passed this rather wild looking teen fashion mall thing called the Mercadillo. OK, I didn't pass it, I went in. I figured it should be good for about 3 minutes amusement. Much to my amazement, buried at the back and one floor up was this elegant, if slightly shabby, courtyard terazza, one of the nicest, most relaxing spots to sit in the middle of the city. A well-kept secret, or something. I had a carajillo (coffee with a little coñac -- it's not cognac if it's not French), hung out, did a few sketches, and read the newspaper.

That night I went to see a production of Bernstein's Candide performed in Catalan. I figured I knew the work well enough that it wouldn't matter if I coudn't follow too much dialogue, and that's about exactly how it went. Actually did follow a little here and there, but spoken Catalan is actually harder for me than, say, Tuscan Italian.

First: buying tickets. Most branches of the big Catalan bank La Caixa have what they call ServiCaixa, a thing sort of like an ATM, but which sells theatre tickets, sports tickets, etc. Very little markup, amazingly. Beats hell out of TicketMonster. Right down to an interactive method of choosing a particular seat. Much to my amazement, I got front and center of the first circle of the balcony. (Turned out the theater was little more than half full. I don't know why. It was a decent production by a reasonably well-respected company.)

For anyone who may not be familiar with this play, it is based on Voltaire's novel of the same name, about a young man whose teacher, Doctor Pangloss, closely modeled on the philosopher Leibniz, has taught him that this is the best of all possible worlds, and no amount of experience to the contrary seems to be able to teach him otherwise.

The staging was very well done. I tend to like the approach which is heavy on costumes and light on props, which was how they did it. Small orchestra, only 11 pieces, about the minimum for this, reasonably good cast. The one standout was Isabel Soriano as Cunegonde, or as they would have it here Cunegunda. An opera singer's pipes and a vaudevillian's willingness to go for the cheap laugh, which is what the part calls for, especially "Glitter and Be Gay." Some very good stage business on that,—someone can probably tell me whether it's in the script—with the hovering servant tightening the corset exactly when she goes for the high notes.

Before I'm out of here I do want to try some other theatre. There's a production here at the highly reputed Teatre Lluire which is a reworking of King Lear with elements of Pirandello, but the reviews have been lousy. There's also two short plays by Pirandello (in Italian!) which I just might check out. This must be Pirandello month.

All for the best in the best of all possible cities.

[May 23]: Never did make it to the Pirandello stuff, but caught Lear, or the dream of an actress. There's a limit to how much I can judge a play where half the dialogue escaped me—Catalan is just not that close to Castillian Spanish—but I didn't get the impression that their Pirandellian thing with actors slipping in and out of layers of character and the lead actress trying to work out whether she is actually playing Lear or just dreaming she is playing Lear was particular interesting or profound. Some very clever Wooster-groupish stuff with doubled voices, one speaking Shakespeare's English and the other in Catalan, and a few bits with the use of pop music and lip-synching which reminded me of Seattle's Greek Active Theater (and, interestingly, they were used exactly when male actors were portraying Goneril & Regan, maybe this was a deliberate reference to drag performance, although the style of cross dressing was not particularly drag-show), but nothing they couldn't have grafted into a more straightforward production of Lear. I got the feeling they had this very fine actress and wanted her to play Lear, but they just didn't have the nerve to cast the main role gender blind in an otherwise straightforward production, so they devised this thing to let her do all the major scenes. Which she did very well, but it felt like they needed a play to be in. And not Six Characters in Search of an Author.

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 1 March 2021

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