He was instrumental in the careers of performers like the actors Paco Rabal, Nuria Espert and Mary Carillo, and singers Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé.
Tamayo founded the first of his several companies - it was named after Lope de Vega - in 1946. It took audacity, and the occasional run-in with the censor, for the Madrid-based company to stage the works of authors viewed with suspicion in cold-war Spain.
Tamayo put on Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding, Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman, Albert Camus's Caligula, Bertold Brecht's Mother Courage and works by Jean Anouilh, Samuel Beckett, Luigi Pirandello and Ramón Valle-Inclán. The contrast with the staid and often trashy establishment theatre was startling.
From 1954 to 1962 he was director of the Teatro Español. His first musical was South Pacific in 1954, and Bizet's Carmen wowed open-air audiences eight years later.
In the 1960s he was the founding impresario and director of the Teatro de Bellas Artes and, through the Teatro Lírica Nacional, helped rescue the musical theatre genre from a long slide into mediocrity.
Tamayo's adventurous productions drew in new audiences and he also highlighted Spanish cultural excellence. First performed in 1966, his Antologías de la Zarzuela, showcasing a musical theatre genre rooted in 17th-century Madrid, attracted nearly 20 million spectators worldwide. A 25th-anniversary production in Madrid featured Caballé and Carreras.
Tamayo was born in Granada, where he acted in several amateur drama groups after the civil war. He then joined the Teatro Universitario Lope de Vega, where his early successes included La Vida es un sueño, the classic by Calderón de la Barca, progenitor of the zarzuela genre. Then came that first company of his own, which began with him producing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
In recent times, Tamayo's stagings included Les Misérables, with his close friend Domingo as co-producer at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, where Tamayo was the resident impresario, A Streetcar Named Desire and a reworking of Caligula.
Tamayo was greatly admired in Spanish showbusiness. His honours included the Gold Medal of Fine Arts and royal honours. His final illness followed his collapse at the opening of Madrid's Nuevo Teatro Alcalá.
He is survived by his brother and collaborator, Ramón.
- José Tamayo Rivas, theatre director and impresario, born August 16 1920; died March 26 2003