Maestro Wilkins prepared us for Chamizal’s first encounter with the tonadilla by a brief introduction to the genre… Tonadillas, were popular musical theater sketches, designed for presentation in a corral where every member of the public had a place, featuring actors who were famous for their box-office appeal, playing personae well-known to their fans, in star vehicles which relied on the kind of sure-fire plot devices that still sell well in telenovelas. Singing, dancing, and acting – the triple-threat skill set still necessary for stardom in musical theater – were so central to the genre’s conception that its librettists remained anonymous.
Villa y Corte had great value, both for scholars and for people who just like a good show. With period instruments, period costumes, and a period set, it authoritatively demonstrated how 18th-century Spanish theater songs, dances, and orchestras sounded and looked. It inspired its audience to re-think the role of singing, dancing, and instrumental music – elements easily overlooked when we study plays on the page –in making classical Spanish theater engaging on the stage. The singing was consistently well produced and (a rare treat for musical theater) always well balanced with the orchestra. The orchestra was admirably dramatic, adding a fine rendition of the Andante sostenuto from Boccherini’s La casa del diavolo to the program, proof that 18th-century Spanish composers could write dramatic conflict into their music. The dancing was dynamic and expert,
Where other tonadillas won respectful attention…La competencia held its audience spellbound. Here, the marriage of situational discord with musical concord was instantly accessible and totally captivating. The capacity crowd roared with laughter, listened with rapture, and rocketed to its feet when this closing sketch concluded. It was an ovation well earned by an evening superbly equipped to delight, instruct, and inspire.