Flamenco in Madrid – Experience the Soul of Spain
By the time it was over we were speechless, tingling with emotion. It was impossible to adequately describe the experience we had just taken in, but some of the words that came to mind were: passionate, fiery, intense, magical, moving, extraordinary.
It was the last night of our family’s four-day visit to Madrid and we attended a flamenco performance at Corral de la Morería, Madrid’s finest tablao (flamenco club). We had many memorable experiences while visiting Spain’s capital, but everybody in our family agreed that this one trumped them all. I now understand why many people say you can’t visit Spain without seeing a classic flamenco show.
Flamenco and its origins
Flamenco is a genuine form of Spanish art and an important expression of Spanish culture, originating from Andalusia, the southernmost part of the country. Many associate it with gypsies, often referred to as “fathers of flamenco,” but different cultures and civilizations that dominated Spain during its rich history, such as the Arabs, also had an important influence on the development of flamenco.
Exact origins of flamenco are subject to much debate because, just like the art form, the stories about flamenco have been passed down through families, and flamenco has only been documented for the last 200 years. Early flamenco is said to be purely vocal, accompanied only by rhythmical clapping of hands, known as toque de palmas.
The word flamenco as it is used today refers to three forms: cante, the song; baile, the dance; and guitarra, the guitar music. A unique musical expression, flamenco conveys the deepest of emotions, usually melancholy and sadness as a result of a heartbreak or loneliness, and when performed artfully, it is known to evoke a special bond between the audience and the artist, known as duende. Various forms of flamenco are performed on stages all over the world. However, at its core, flamenco remains a deeply intimate kind of music and is in my opinion best experienced in small settings and where it was born…Spain.
Madrid Tablaos (Flamenco Clubs)
Today, Madrid is considered the world’s capital of flamenco. We were told that to make it as a flamenco star, be it a dancer or a singer, you have to make it on the stages of Madrid, which is famous for its tablaos, the flamenco equivalent of jazz or blues clubs. Tablaos, which flourished in the 60s, have their own flamenco troupes, referred to as cuadro (although the most famous stars will perform at multiple tablaos and stages). Cuadro flamenco often consists of eight well-known artists: two guitarists, two singers or cantaores, and four dancers or bailaores.
Some of the most well-known tablaos in Madrid are Torres Bermejas, Café de Chinitas, Las Carboneras, Las Tablas and Corral de la Morería. They are all great venues to enjoy classical flamenco and many internationally famed flamenco stars started their careers at one of them, but my research prior to our trip (confirmed with the Madrid locals) suggested Corral de la Morería was the very best. It is even listed in the New York Times bestseller “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” Of course I immediately made our reservation!
Corral de la Morería
Established in 1956, Corral de la Morería is considered the oldest, as well as the most famous Madrid tablao in the world. It is located at Calle Morería 17, in the historic center of Madrid, very close to the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. From the very beginning, its owner, Manuel del Rey, had a vision to create a superb experience for his patrons, hiring only the best chefs and most famous artists and striving for impeccable service.
In addition to its nightly electrifying performances, Corral de la Morería is known for long list of celebrities that have visited its premises over the years: from royals and dignitaries like the King of Spain, King Hussein of Jordan, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, to actors and artists like Sofia Loren, Liza Minnelli, Rudolph Nureyev, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Demi Moore, Sting and Jennifer Aniston. Photos of these and many other celebrities cover the walls of the entryway, immediately testifying to its reputation.
The club seats approximately 150 guests, which surprised us because the setting felt much more intimate. The décor (furniture, lamps, artwork) from the 18th and 19th centuries and low lighting give it an authentic and slightly mysterious vibe, making you feel like you have stepped back in time.
Dinner and Show
Corral de la Morería offers two shows every night (8:30 pm and 10:20 pm), which last approximately one hour. Guests can choose from three different ticket options: “show plus dinner from one of the three fixed menus” which you can find and preview on their website or, alternatively, “show plus dinner a la carte.” If you are not in the mood for food, you can opt for “show only,” which includes one drink.
I should mention that the TripAdvisor reviews I read prior to our visit made me a little skeptical of the food (several reviews praise the show, but suggest the food is not great and overpriced). I could not disagree more. The flamenco performance we witnessed was only elevated by the outstanding cuisine and service we experienced. Some of the dishes we sampled were the house selection of jamón, scallop salad, sea bass and beef tenderloin. They were all fantastic and artfully prepared, delighting both our eyes and pallets. The “Childhood Memories” desert was an amazing sweet finale to our dinner.
The performance was spectacular and impossible to adequately describe. The guitarists, the singers and the dancers were each remarkable in their own way. While Corral de la Morería only presents top flamenco artists, we were extra lucky the night we visited. “Jesús Fernández is here tonight!” whispered our waiter as we were ordering our dinner. When he saw our slightly confused faces, he continued, “He is considered to be one of the top male flamenco dancers in the world at the moment.”
Indeed, his dancing was incredible, but then again, so was the entire experience. It must have been duende we all felt during and after the show. The best part for me was the feeling that the group was not there to entertain anybody. They were on the stage of Corral de la Morería baring their souls, expressing their deepest emotions, so very personal, yet universally understood. We, the audience just happened to be there.
You may also enjoy:
- Read our other articles on family vacations to Madrid
- Looking for a place to stay? Consider Hilton Madrid Airport
- Explore more of Spain with our articles on visiting Barcelona
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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…