Paula Paz talks ‘Black, The Clown’: “Behind a love story there is is a sharp critique about power”

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Arcola Theatre’s summer opera festival, Spanish culture stomps into the London scene through a new production of its purest stage artform. Guillermo Názara chats with its director, Paula Paz, to find out about the remake of Black, The Clown, a 30s zarzuela that mirrors today’s reality more than ever.

This piece was first performed in 1942, only three years after the end of the Spanish civil war. However, the polarization that led to that conflict doesn’t seem that distant anymore.

History repeats itself and this is one of the main themes in Black, el payaso. The polarisation that led to that conflict is sadly present in many countries now, with a different socioeconomic context of
course, but there are things we must watch out for. We must learn from the past, we just need to look at what’s going on in different parts of the world. We have valuable information in history.

Is Black a cautionary tale? Could it prevent us from the errors of the past?

Black is a tale that has multiple layers, but yes, it is also a cautionary tale. If we don’t pay enough attention to the errors of the past, populism can quickly result in our rights being reduced or taken away, result in wars and consequences on individuals and globally, in countries completely torn
apart, exile and refugees. Black, the clown makes us laugh, it’s clever, it’s witty and at the same time it makes us think. It seems like a harmless tale that at the same time is saying beware because history repeats itself.

I think in Black, the clown, an operetta that premiered in the middle of the dictatorship, is really surprising in how it managed to bypass the censorship. Behind a love story there is is a sharp critique about power.

Are arts and politics friends or rivals?

Neither friends nor rivals. They are fundamentally and irrevocably interconnected and if there is something that should unite them it is that they must both be at the service of society.
Of course, an advanced democratic state has a responsibility towards culture since it is a
fundamental pillar for the development of our society. Governments must support culture to generate strong and independent structures that encompass a multiplicity of voices which are integrated into the social fabric at all levels.

Culture is a window to oneself and a window to the world, it is undoubtedly a very powerful tool for change.

What does Black, as a character, stand for?

Black is an idealist and dreamer of a clown who, living in exile, finds himself involved in a plot of love and power. His beliefs are constantly challenged by situations. The force of love is what takes him to unexpected places.

What does the character mean to you?

He is a polyhedral character, who has many interpretations and that is wonderful. The public will be able to see different parts of him; a poor artist in love, an opportunist, a clown in power and a good king. I love this piece because it constantly asks you questions. Nothing is what it seems and at the same time everything is what it seems. This is partly a beautiful consequence of a piece born in the times of dictatorship and censorship

This work belongs to an exclusively Spanish genre created for a Spanish audience. What challenges do you find when presenting a foreign artform in the British scene?

This is our area of expertise; we opened the Cervantes Theatre in London to bring the best of Spanish and Latin American Culture to British audiences. This is the first time we put on a full zarzuela (Spanish operetta) in London and in this particular case, we have chosen a piece that as I like to say, “travels well”, with universal, timeless themes and which can cater to an international audience. Pablo Sorozábal is one of our best composers, his music is glorious and it will surprise audiences for its wide range, its lyricism and its quality. Black, el payaso navigates love, power, war, exile and yes, the relationship between arts and politics.
In our production, the songs will be in Spanish with surtitles and the scenes (one of the uniqueness of zarzuela) in English. It is also a reduced version, with 5 singers, 1 actor, piano and violin. I hope we can open the doors to this genre to British audiences. There is something truly special about zarzuela.

Do you find any other defiance, either vocally or acting-wise?

We did a lot of auditions for this. You need exceptional opera singers with very strong acting skills. There is a lot of storytelling in the music and in the scenes so the work needs to be very precise.

What has this role made you learn as a director?

I was very much looking forward to directing zarzuela and opera and it has been a fantastic experience. It’s been wonderful to be able to apply my background as a professional ballet dancer as
there is a different approach to directing with music, and as a ballet dancer, classical music is part of my DNA. I found this extremely helpful when directing Black, el payaso. The narrative is part of many
different levels and as a director you need to make sure they are all integrated and part of the same world. Starting with the music, the lyrics, the text, the movement, the character development and of course the vision and the world of the piece created for this production.

One of the most interesting things for me as a director has been creating the vision for this production of Black, el payaso. Adding the character of the Child, a demiurge that creates the whole universe of Black and that represents the hidden power forces who pulls the strings in the world.

Working with Ricardo Gosalbo as music director has also been a real pleasure. And one of the things I’ve learned from this project is that investing time to audition and finding the right artists for the roles really pays off. I’m very proud of the team we have for this production, not only the singers, but everyone involved.

Has Black given you any life lessons?

We must learn from the past.

Why should we go see Black, The Clown?

It is a rare and unique opportunity to see zarzuela in London! Songs in Spanish and scenes in English, with surtitles in both languages, exquisite music and a story that mixes comedy and drama, arts and politics.

Black, The Clown will run at the Arcola Theatre from August 2nd to 6th. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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