Mention Spanish literature and almost everyone will say “Don Quixote,” but there is a lot more to the Spanish Golden Age than Cervantes’ legendary hero.

The Siglo de Oro drama festival, one of the most unique and prestigious festivals of its kind, has given El Pasoans the rare opportunity to experience some of the hidden treasures of Iberian literature in their own backyard. This year, the festival is sponsored by Hunt Companies, El Paso Electric Company, El Paso Community Foundation, the Mexican Consulate and Dede Rogers.

Initially conceived to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial, the festival has become an annual celebration of Spanish influence along the border. This year is no exception. With four theatrical companies from Spain, Mexico, Colombia and the U.S., the festival will offer five days of music, dance and some of the most imaginative storytelling on stage.

One of the participants this year is the Dallas-based Orchestra of New Spain in collaboration with renowned theatrical director Gustavo Tambascio. What’s Up had the opportunity to speak to this Argentinean director about his career, as well as this year’s performance.

Q. Tell us about this year’s performance.

The show, “Villa y Corte,” consists of five “tonadillas” of the kind that were presented in popular theaters in Madrid. Each one is approximately fifteen minutes long. It’s a very spontaneous genre that flourished between 1760 and 1800, where popular performers of the time starred on a new tonadilla every two or three days. They are well known for their spark, their humor and their wit. In our version, the spoken parts are in English and the sung portions in Spanish.

Q. How did this collaboration with the Orchestra of New Spain come to be?

Well, I’ve known Grover Wilkins, its director, for many years since he lived in Madrid. Back then I directed a famous musical, “Man of La Mancha,” and we commissioned Wilkins to do the soundtrack. From then on, I’ve always had dealings with him. In 2006 we did one of Lope de Vega’s plays in Dallas called “In Love But Discreet” (La discreta enamorada) set in the 1950s. It was the first play in Spanish ever done at SMU.

Q. How did you start in theatre?

I started when I was five as an actor in my sister’s theatre company in Argentina. I worked in television, writing radio scripts, as a director and producer’s assistant, and in many different capacities until I debuted as a director in Caracas in 1980. In Venezuela, I had been secretary of the Metropolitan Opera and later, director of the Ateneo de Caracas. Then, I returned to Argentina invited by the Teatro Colon and then I moved to Madrid in 1988. I established there and have directed in many different places, but with a home base in Madrid.

Q. What do you look for in a script to stage it?

It has to be an interesting story. In that sense, I’m very attracted to the classics because there’s always the possibility of a reinterpretation. I have also staged many contemporary authors. But the classics are always current; the classics are eternal. When you enter the world of the Greeks, you realize that the stories they told, the emotions they evoked still touch us deeply because they talk about family dramas, conflict, love and hate.

Q. Why is a modern audience attracted to classical theatre and opera? Does it have to do with these universal themes you mention?

On one hand, yes. On the other, this is something that cannot be experienced through television. It’s a very particular event. When you go to the theatre, you leave your ordinary world. It’s something very exceptional.

Q. Do you visualize a play in your head before you stage it?

I get flashes of what I want to do and then I try to get to them. Above all, I try to see what the actors can give me. Many times you have a preconceived idea of what you want and you have to change it because you’re imposing something that goes against the actor’s nature, so it’s a combination of your vision and what the actors can give you.

Q: Why do humans like stories so much?

Because stories take us away from the anxieties of ordinary life. They remove us from our misery, from our despair. We love them because it’s not us. Aristotle said it best: the public has a catharsis in tragedy and a catharsis in comedy through laughter. The audience leaves the theatre somewhat transformed; they’ve lived other lives and they return home with the peace of mind that this didn’t happen to them.

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